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Agreement would ease the harshest spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and domestic agencies for a second year
December 10, 20135:56PM ETUpdated 7:30PM ET
Negotiations on Capitol Hill have yielded a budget agreement to ease automatic spending cuts and replace some of them with savings from future-year cuts. However, the agreement, seen as a modest one, does nothing to address three of the big drivers of American deficit spending — the Medicare government health insurance program for the elderly, the Medicaid aid program for the poor and the Social Security government pension plan.
The compromise, announced Tuesday afternoon by the two negotiators — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — and dubbed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, restores about $65 billion in automatic spending cuts from programs ranging from parks to the Pentagon through the end of the next budget year, which runs to Sept. 30, 2015. Votes are expected in both houses by week's end.
Officials said the increases would be offset by a variety of spending reductions and increased fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, enough for a largely symbolic cut of roughly $20 billion in the nation's $17 trillion debt.
Among them is a requirement for federal workers to make larger contributions to their own pensions, as well as an increase in a federal airport security fee that would add $5 to the cost of a typical roundtrip flight.
Doesn't solve everything
While an agreement would have little impact on deficits, it holds the potential for avoiding politically charged budget clashes for the next year or two. It was also reached without a catastrophic deadline hanging over lawmakers' heads.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday afternoon alongside Murray, Ryan called the agreement "a step in the right direction" that ensures that "we don't have a shutdown scenario in January or October."
Murray said that because of the deal, the government can stop "lurching from crisis to crisis."
"This deal doesn’t solve all of our problems, but it is an important step to heal some of the wounds in Congress," she said.
Ryan said that the agreement demonstrated "you don't always get what you want" in divided government, but that it was a "clear improvement (over) the status quo."
"(We've) made some compromises and worked together to get something done," said Murray, adding that she and Ryan "made a conscious decision to focus on where we can agree."
When asked whether the agreement would gain support among more conservative lawmakers in the Republican Party, Ryan said, "I think conservatives should vote for this." While admitting that the agreement was clearly a "compromise," he said the deficit would go down under the agreement, adding that "nobody had to sacrifice their key principles."
The bipartisan push for a budget agreement stems from automatic cuts as a result of the sequester. If left in place, the reductions would carve $91 billion from the day-to-day budgets of the Pentagon and domestic agencies when compared with spending limits set by the hard-fought 2011 budget agreement.
Support for a deal to ease the reductions is strongest in Congress among defense hawks in both houses and both parties who fear the impact on military readiness from a looming $20 billion cut in Pentagon spending.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama said Tuesday evening that the budget agreement was a "good first step" and urged Congress to pass a budget based on the agreement. The pact by Ryan and Murray, the chairs of their respective budget committees, comes after several failed attempts at broader budget pacts.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Philip J. Victor contributed to this report.