Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Budget negotiators announced Tuesday a bipartisan budget deal to set spending levels for the federal government for two years and replace unpopular spending cuts with other savings.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are spearheading negotiations that intensified in recent days as a Dec. 13 deadline approaches.
Both Ryan and Murray said the agreement would stop the government "lurching from crisis to crisis."
If successful, the deal would put the congressional budget process back on track, allowing for passage of the 12 annual spending bills that cover federal spending other than mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. It would also eliminate the threat of another government shutdown. Government funding is scheduled to run out again in January unless Congress passes a new spending measure.
The budget framework would set top-line spending figures for the next two fiscal years and replace for two years the sequester - the across-the-board spending cuts triggered earlier this year following prior failures to reach a budget agreement -- with other cuts and non-tax revenues.
However, there was growing opposition from influential outside conservative groups against any deal that would raise spending levels above the GOP House's $967 billion sequester level, even if it is offset with other savings. Budget talks have narrowed in on levels that would split the difference between the House spending level and the Democratic Senate's $1.058 billion spending level.
"It's disingenuous for Republicans to surrender the only real spending reforms accomplished under the Obama Administration, and call that a deal," said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. The group opposes any deal that increases spending levels, particularly because there appear to be no significant changes to entitlement programs like Medicare in the mix.
Senior GOP lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, expressed reservations Tuesday to any deal that increases spending levels. "My initial reaction is 'no,'" said Hatch.
House Democrats were continuing their efforts to use the negotiations as a vehicle to secure an extension of unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the month. Benefits affecting 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers are set to expire if Congress doesn't act, and the budget deal could be the only vehicle headed to President Obama's desk before the U.S. House adjourns until the new year on Friday.