House, Senate negotiators reach budget deal

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(CNN) – Bipartisan House and Senate negotiators have reached deal on a new budget plan that would set federal spending levels and eliminate arbitrary forced spending cuts scheduled to hit early next year, multiple sources said on Tuesday. The House and Senate must still vote on the agreement and opponents in both parties are already raising concerns. If passed by Congress, the agreement would mark a significant departure from repeated congressional showdowns over the budget.

Bipartisan Congressional negotiators aiming to meet a Friday deadline for a new federal budget proposal are close to a deal viewed as central to averting another government shutdown next month, the top Republican involved in the talks said.

“We’re making really good progress. We’re getting close. Don’t have a time line for you,” Rep. Paul Ryan told reporters on Tuesday.

Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray have spent the past two months working on an agreement that would set government spending levels and replace the next round of deep automatic cuts – known as sequester- set to take effect early next year.

Negotiators were tasked with reaching a deal following October’s budget drama in Washington when inaction by Congress on spending for the current fiscal year led to a two week federal shutdown.

Temporary spending authority put in place after the shutdown expires in mid January, but the House is leaving town on Friday for the holidays. That’s the marker negotiators aim to hit to give Congress its best shot at weighing a spending proposal when it returns and avoiding another fiscal debacle as the new year gets underway.

Ryan cites progress, but there are signs of pushback from the right and left over pension contributions and unemployment compensation.

On the Democratic side, two key House leaders, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Steny Hoyer, have strongly objected to the idea of including an increase in federal worker pension contributions as part of the deal.

Both men represent Maryland districts heavily populated by federal employees.

Democratic pushback may have gained them some ground.

“The proposal that’s before us – it’s a little bit better than it was yesterday. We made progress. But it hasn’t fully satisfied us yet,” Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, said.

Many also are pushing for an extension of unemployment benefits to be in the deal and Murray put it on the table in the budget negotiations.

But Tuesday, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, indicated the politically charged issue may be separated from budget talks.

“From my understanding, that’s more between Speaker Boehner and (President Barack Obama) at this point,” he told CNN.

While they insist jobless benefits be addresses before Congress adjourns, multiple House Democrats suggested any extension could be attached to other must-pass measures — like a farm bill extension or legislation covering Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

Israel said fellow Democrats are not ready to concede that an unemployment extension “won’t be part of the budget.”

On the right, conservatives are pushing back at any change in the spending caps that were put in place in the 2011 budget law that set in motion the sequester cuts.

Tuesday, three conservative organizations–Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action and Freedomworks– issued statements urging conservatives to oppose any deal that would roll back the caps or set higher spending levels.

The political objections create a significant issue in the House, where any deal would likely need a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass.

By Lisa Desjardins and Deirdre Walsh

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