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Budget deal breaks through partisan gridlock

Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray walk to their joint news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and Washington State Democrat Patty Murray hailed the budget deal they unveiled Tuesday night as a “step in the right direction,” averting another potential government shutdown in the new year and breaking through the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress in recent years.

The lead negotiators acknowledged the bipartisan agreement, which rolls back some of the sequester spending cuts while achieving $22 billion in additional deficit savings, involved compromise from both sides.

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“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, told reporters at a Tuesday evening news conference at the Capitol.

“Because of this deal, the budget process can now stop lurching from crisis to crisis,” added Murray, who chairs the Senate Budget panel.

CQ Roll Call’s Adriel Bettelheim outlines the top line numbers in the plan:

The pact would swell the cap on spending this year to $1.012 trillion, up from the sequester level of $967 billion that was set in the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25). That would also amount to a $26 billion increase over the current $986 billion level of spending in the stopgap funding bill (PL 113-46) that expires Jan. 15.

Ryan sought to head off concerns from conservatives about raising the spending cap by noting the agreement reduces the deficit and does not violate the party’s core principle of opposing tax hikes.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery breaks down how lawmakers plan to offset the $63 billion in sequester relief included in the proposal:

That cost would be covered through a mix of policies to be implemented over the next decade. They include $12.6 billion in higher security fees for airline passengers, $8 billion in higher premiums for federal insurance for private pensions, $6 billion in reduced payments to student-loan debt collectors and $3 billion saved by not completely refilling the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves.

Another large chunk of savings — $12 billion over the next decade — would come from reduced contributions to federal pensions, split evenly between military retirees and new civilian workers who start after Dec. 31.

For those in the military, the reduction would take the form of lower cost-of-living increases for retirees between the ages of 40 and 62, many of whom take other jobs while collecting their military pensions. New civilian workers, meanwhile, would be required to contribute an additional 1.3 percent to their retirements.

From President Barack Obama on down, politicians are cautiously embracing the deal even while saying the proposal isn’t how they would have crafted it.

“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise,” Mr. Obama said. “But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”

House Speaker John Boehner backed the deal right after the announcement. He called it “modest in scale” but a good step forward for spending cuts and reducing the deficit without raising taxes.

Because the cuts don’t go far enough for Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican was among the first lawmakers to oppose the plan out of the gate, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to vote no as well.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “compromise” should not be a bad word, and applauded the deal done outside of “hostage-taking or crisis-making.”

“We didn’t get what we wanted, they didn’t get what they wanted,” he said. “But that’s what legislation is all about, working together.”

But outside conservative groups have already started lobbying against that compromise.

Al Cardenas of the American Conservative Union asked members of the conference committee tasked with crafting the plan but mostly shut out of the process to “get back to work,” and called the cost-cutting in the measure “gimmicks.”

“Conservatives prefer a wiser approach to cost-cutting than the sequester but appreciate the beginning of a more disciplined approach to spending,” he said. “The solution is not to walk away from progress and add over $60 billion in spending over the next two years.”

“Congressman Ryan claims that the plan doesn’t raise taxes,” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “But whether the government collects more revenue by fees, taxes, tariffs, excises, or penalties, the government is still taking more of your money to pay for its spending addiction. Our federal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

“This budget compromise is not just bad policy, it is bad politics,” said Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips. “The American people remember hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester, and are not pleased to see their conservative representatives so easily go back on their word to rein in government over-spending.”

What remains unclear is how that criticism might translate to votes — or a lack of votes — on Capitol Hill. A group of at least 33 House Republicans penned a letter to Boehner before the deal was announced asking the speaker to put forward a continuing resolution that keeps the sequester fully in place.

On CNN’s Crossfire Tuesday, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a leader among conservatives who have revolted against Boehner on this and other matters, said the proposal “doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.”

“I think we’ve always settled for less than we can get with this leadership,” the Kansas Republican said.

House GOP leaders will brief members Wednesday morning. The mood after that meeting will give a big indication of whether Congress will meet its Friday deadline or push things into the holidays.


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Aileen Graef contributed to this report.

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