Tentative budget agreement reached with Congress, White House

WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders and the White House have reached a tentative budget deal to avert a government shutdown and pay for federal operations into 2013.

The six-month stopgap measure would keep the government funded at current levels previously agreed to by Republicans and Democrats -- dashing, for now,  the hopes of conservatives who have sought to make steeper spending reductions, including eliminating funding for President Obama’s healthcare law.

While the agreement resolves a stalemate that could have led to a shutdown before the fall election, it does little to address the larger budget debate over expiring tax cuts and mandatory spending cuts scheduled to occur in the new year.

Votes on the tentative deal are set for September, before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“This is very good, because we can resolve these critical issues that directly affect the country soon as the election’s over and move on to do good things,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the media on Tuesday. “It puts this out of the way.”

The swift agreement from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is a turnaround from the shutdown threats that have dominated this Congress as the new GOP majority in the House pledged to slash government spending.

But with the fiscal year coming to a close right before the election, Republican leaders calculated it was better to reach a short-term agreement on the routine functions of government so that lawmakers on the campaign trail could make their case for tax breaks and other issues.

“Taking this issue off the table will keep the larger focus on jobs, the economy and President Obama’s failed economic policies,” said a GOP leadership aide who asked not to be identified talking about party strategy. “That’s where Republicans win and Democrats lose.”

Republicans also risked being blamed for another game of brinkmanship if Congress was unable to come to an agreement and the government teetered on the verge of a shutdown.

Boehner will likely need to rely on Democrats to pass the agreement in the House, where some conservatives are likely to balk over the lost opportunity to further cut the size and scope of government.

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