Negotiators close to two-year budget deal
With everyone's focus on the problems with Obamacare, lost in the shuffle has been the 29 member House-Senate negotiating team, which has been plowing forward and has a deal in sight.
U.S. budget talks are aiming for a two-year deal that would end divisive fiscal showdowns that have plagued Congress since 2011, while also easing the severe across-the-board spending cuts that otherwise would be triggered in 2014 and 2015, a Republican negotiator said on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that the 29-member Senate-House negotiating committee "would like to achieve" a two-year budget. And while he said the talks were "close" to a deal, he emphasized that details were still being debated.
A two-year deal, Cole said, would help Congress pass spending bills in a more efficient manner and ease the series of government shutdown threats that have been in play since 2011. The threat turned into reality last month when many federal agencies were shuttered for 16 days after government funding ran out on October 1.
"It would ease a lot of the tension around here," Cole said.
The panel is racing against a December 13 deadline to reach a deal that would allow Congress to put funding in place before spending authority runs out again on January 15
While he would not provide specifics of the deal being negotiated, the six-term lawmaker characterized it this way:
"It's likely to be a pretty small deal, something that trades some relatively modest savings and perhaps some small entitlement reforms and maybe a little dab of revenue somehow."
Such a deal, Cole said, would "loosen up the sequester" that requires across-the-board spending cuts of around $100 billion a year. Those cuts would hit the Pentagon and an array of other agencies that oversee everything from environmental programs to medical research and national parks.
Conservatives in the House are not liklely to go along with any deal that adds a dime to the federal budget beyond what the sequester was cutting. At the same time, even many on the right recognize the strait jacket that the sequester puts defense and other spending in. "Loosening up" the sequester without increasing spending beyond what it cut will be a challenge and Democrats are also likely to oppose any deal that doesn't increase spending to where it would be without the sequester.
Reaching a deal would be a fine thing. Passing it in both houses of Congress is going to be an entirely different matter.