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Sat Aug 30 08:15:44 SAST 2014

US lawmakers announce two-year budget deal

Sapa-AFP | 11 December, 2013 08:17
A view of the Capitol Building in Washington
Image by: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS

Congressional negotiators on Tuesday reached a two-year deal on US spending which aims to avoid a repeat of the government shutdown that paralyzed Washington in October.

President Barack Obama hailed the agreement as a sign of rare bipartisan cooperation in the strife-filled US legislature.

"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," the president said shortly after the deal was announced.

The agreement's main brokers, Democratic Senator Patty Murry and House Republican Paul Ryan, said it sets the new annual budget caps for 2014 and 2015 at just over $1 trillion -- slightly higher than current levels -- and at least partially repeals the automatic, widely loathed budget cuts known as "sequestration."

"I see this agreement as a step in the right direction," Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters, noting that the deal does not raise taxes on Americans.

"We have broken through the gridlock and reached a bipartisan budget compromise that will prevent a government shutdown in January," added Murray, the Senate's top budget chief, who said she and Ryan set aside their political differences to reach a compromise over weeks of negotiations.

"We agree that our country needs some certainty and we need to show that we can work together," she added.

Under a deal reached in October that ended a crippling 16-day shutdown, federal spending authority expires on January 15, when a new agreement will need to be in force.

Tuesday's deal provides for $85 billion in mandatory savings while allowing for $63 billion in sequestration relief, leaving some $22 billion in deficit reduction, according to Ryan.

By most accounts the deal is an underwhelming one, far from the grand bargain envisioned by some optimists in Washington earlier this year.

But it sets the warring Democratic and Republican Parties on track for further cooperation on fiscal policy, ending the cycle of budget feuding that has marred Washington since 2011.

"While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings," House Speaker John Boehner said.

The challenge now is selling the agreement to skeptical conservatives and liberals in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Murray said she was "hopeful" the deal will pass muster in the Republican-led House this week before that chamber breaks for the year-end recess.

Each chamber must pass a budget bill by January 15 or risk another government shutdown.

Senator Marco Rubio was quick out of the gate in opposition to the deal, saying it merely furthers "Washington's irresponsible budgeting decisions" by spending more than government brings in.

"We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good-paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American Dream," Rubio said.

Conservative groups such as Americans For Prosperity have already come out opposing the agreement, saying it blows past the budget caps established in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Liberal group Democracy for America blasted the agreement for failing to include an extension of unemployment insurance.

"Democrats should stand strong and reject any budget deal that fails to adequately protect those who continue to look for work," the group's chairman Jim Dean said.

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Sat Aug 30 08:15:44 SAST 2014 ::