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National News

November 25, 2013

Prospects brighten for small-scale budget deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite the poisonous environment in Congress, chances are improving for a small-scale budget deal next month that would ease automatic spending decreases that threaten to cut more deeply into domestic programs and military priorities in 2014.

Neither party will get its biggest priority — for Democrats, higher taxes; for Republicans, slowing the exploding cost of retirement programs. But a mutual desire to avert another government shutdown sets the stage for splitting the $91 billion difference between what Senate Democrats and House Republicans want to spend next year on operating budgets of the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

Any deal reached by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his counterpart in the Senate, Patty Murray, could still be rejected by their colleagues. But both profess optimism while working hard to minimize potentially damaging leaks that could derail their efforts. Murray, D-Wash., plans to return to the Capitol the week after Thanksgiving to continue behind-closed-door negotiations even though the Senate will remain on recess.

“Hopefully, we can finish, but we’ll see,” Murray said as she left the Capitol last week. “I can just say we’re working really hard to get an agreement.”

Democratic and GOP aides familiar with the talks report progress but say there is no agreement yet. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk publicly about the negotiations.

Both Ryan, the 2012 GOP nominee for vice president, and Murray were members of earlier deficit panels that failed to strike large-scale budget deals. This time, they’ve set their sights considerably lower: a package of deficit savings sufficient to pay for restoring some but not all of the automatic spending cuts triggered by the inability of Congress and the president to follow up on a 2011 deficit-shaving accord.

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