Budget deal expected to avert standoff
Agreement would amount to cease-fire
House and Senate negotiators were putting the finishing touches yesterday on what would be the first successful budget accord since 2011, when the battle over a soaring national debt first paralyzed Washington.
The deal expected to be sealed this week on Capitol Hill would not significantly reduce the debt, now $17.3 trillion and rising. It would not close corporate tax loopholes or reform expensive health-care and retirement programs. It would not even fully replace sharp spending cuts known as the sequester, the negotiators’ primary target.
After more than two years of constant crisis, the emerging agreement amounts to little more than a cease-fire. Republicans and Democrats are abandoning their debt-reduction goals, laying down arms and, for the moment, trying to avoid another economy-damaging standoff.
The campaign to control the debt is ending “with a whimper not a bang,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates debt reduction. “That this can be declared a victory is an indicator of how low the process has sunk. They haven’t really done anything except avoid another crisis.”
Details of the agreement remained murky yesterday as aides to the principal negotiators, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, continued to work behind closed doors. Ryan and Murray chair a 29-member conference committee tasked with approving a plan to fund federal agencies through fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, and avoid another government shutdown when a temporary funding measure expires in January.
With lawmakers due back in town tomorrow, aides said Ryan and Murray are likely to bypass the committee and take the deal, if finalized, straight to the full House and Senate.