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US House leaders signal budget deal still a work in progress

Dec. 6, 2013 - 08:18AM   |  
Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (AFP)
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WASHINGTON — House leaders signaled Thursday that budget talks intended to provide sequestration relief to the Pentagon and other agencies are not as close to the finish line as suspected 24 hours ago.

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California — flanked by other senior Democrats — used their weekly press conferences to make clear that, despite numerous reports of an emerging deal, House and Senate negotiators have yet to shake on a 2014 budget resolution.

“There is no budget agreement yet,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the lower chamber’s No. 3 Democrat, told reporters.

“I haven’t seen the agreement,” Boehner said a few hours earlier.

Boehner and Pelosi both said that “hopefully” a budget conference committee led by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would soon reach an accord.

Defense News reported Wednesday evening that the Ryan-Murray panel was moving in on a final deal that would provide sequestration relief to the Defense Department and other agencies in 2014 and 2015.

Defense sources said the panel is likely to propose $45 billion in sequestration relief in 2014, to be split evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary accounts. In 2015, the total relief would be about half that, again split evenly.

It was unclear at posting whether the committee will propose raising spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act to provide that relief or do so with other federal spending cuts.

Several sticking points of the closed-door talks crept into public light on Thursday.

One is unemployment insurance benefits, which senior Democrats say must be in the final Ryan-Murray budget plan. Another is sequestration, with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland telling reporters it is increasingly clear that many GOP members want to keep all remaining nine years of sequestration, including the defense cuts.

Spokespersons for Ryan and Murray largely were mum on Thursday about when the deal might be finalized.

“Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground,” said his spokesman, Kevin Seifert. “He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way.”

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