Congressional panel closes in on a possible budget compromise

WASHINGTON — Budget negotiators who are racing to prevent another government shutdown in the new year are close to a mini-deal that could go to the House for a vote as soon as next week.

The contours of the agreement being crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the party's former vice presidential nominee, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, the budget chairwoman, are bound to disappoint tea party conservatives, making its prospects for passage uncertain.

Congress faces a Dec. 13 deadline to come up with a package before the House recesses. Funding to keep the government open runs out Jan. 15 if nothing is done, and leaders hope to set in motion a process that would give preliminary approval, with final passage in the new year.


According to those familiar with the private talks, the deal would replace about half of the nearly $100 billion in upcoming sequester cuts for 2014 — which will automatically slash budgets for defense and social programs after Jan. 15 — with a combination of new fees, revenues and modest spending reductions.

Lawmakers from both parties are eager to avoid the full brunt of the next round of sequester cuts, which they fear will cut too deeply and indiscriminately into the Defense Department budget and social programs, like Head Start for preschoolers. There would be no new taxes, which



The deal would set annual spending for the 2014 fiscal year at around $1 trillion -- midway between the $967 billion demanded by the most conservative Republicans, and the $1.058 trillion pursued by Senate Democrats.

Murray and Ryan continue to negotiate, and the senator returned to the Capital on Wednesday while the Senate is on recess to continue talks. Many details have yet to be worked out, sources said.

Politically, a deal could help both parties rebound from the damaging government shutdown by preventing another one.

But a deal also poses political risks for hard-line conservatives, especially tea party newcomers who have staked their young careers on cutting government.

Undoing the sequester would force conservatives to abandon the deep cuts that have emerged as their main trophy from the past three years of budget battles with the White House.

Passing such a package would require Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to keep enough of his  Republican lawmakers in line — something he has had trouble doing.

Already, outside conservative groups are criticizing the outlines of the deal.

Ryan, the conservative budget committee chairman from Wisconsin, has had sizable influence over the party's right flank, and his backing of a deal could help provide momentum.

At the same time, the deal is also sure to disappoint more moderate lawmakers, and some Democrats, who had hoped for a more sweeping budget accord — a grand bargain that would have greatly reduced deficits and put fiscal matters on a more certain path, potentially ending the cycle of crisis governing that has come to define Washington.

Others, though, welcomed even a modest deal.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally, said perhaps the time had come for the divided Congress to quit aiming high, and just try to get to "first base."

"Let's just hit some singles around here for a while," he said. "We don't need to swing for the fences. Our batting average isn't very good."

Twitter: @lisamascaroinDC

Staff writer Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed to this report.