When the federal
government shutdown finally came to an end in the middle of October, one of the provisions of the deal was the start of a budget conference between the House and Senate.
Not many people thought the conference would lead to anything. But the two leaders on the 29-member bipartisan budget panel — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are closing in on a small deal that could quiet down talks of another shutdown in January.
The deal is far from the elusive “grand bargain.” According to congressional aides, here are some of the parameters of the ongoing negotiations:
- Discretionary spending (which includes most spending aside from interest and entitlement programs) in the budget accord will likely be capped somewhere between $US990 billion and $US1 trillion — higher than the $US967 billion level that many Republicans currently support, but lower than the $US1.058 trillion in the Democratic budget plan.
- The higher spending levels — from a slight rollback of the cuts in sequestration — would be offset by other spending cuts and non-tax revenue increases, which include a number of different possibilities. Some of those include airline passenger fees and changes to the federal retirement program.
- Aides said that the deal does not include an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, the expiration of which threatens to affect 1.3 million people at the end of the year.
- It also does not include any extension of the debt ceiling, the suspension of which ends on Feb. 7. The Treasury can use so-called “extraordinary measures” to extend the “drop-dead” date to March or April.
Both sides caution that the deal could still run into snags. Many Republicans think that the sequester cuts shouldn’t be rolled back at all. Some Democrats are already pushing back at the talk of changes to the federal employee retirement program and the lack of an extension of unemployment benefits.
If a budget deal is not reached in the next few days, House Speaker John Boehner prefers, according to CNN, to move before Christmas recess a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at a $US967 billion level, which keeps the sequestration cuts. Government funding expires on Jan. 15, the deadline that could trigger another shutdown.
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