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Can Congress Get a Budget Deal Done?

Congress doesn't get much done on the budget without a deadline hanging over it, and this time it's staring at a deadline - or at least a first deadline - of Dec. 13.


That's the date by which lawmakers on a bipartisan conference committee - led by Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), her House counterpart - are supposed to come up with a budget deal. Without a deal, the government runs out of money in January and the debt ceiling is reached in February.

The negotiations will only succeed, Murray said in an opinion piece piece for the Washington Post, "if both sides step out of their partisan corners and make some compromises to boost the economy, continue to cut spending responsibly and close some wasteful tax loopholes."

Democrats are pushing for tax reform; Republicans aim to shave spending on Social Security, Medicare and other big federal programs. Murray said she is willing to meet Republicans halfway but warned: "Democrats won't agree to irresponsible cuts that hurt seniors and families, but we can find responsible savings across the federal budget to get to a fair deal."

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Murray conceded that the conference committee is no place to overhaul the whole tax code, but she is pushing to close a few loopholes.

Republicans, however, have other ideas. "If this conference becomes an argument about taxes," Ryan said, "we're not going to get anywhere."

Another committee member is Sen. Angus King, an independent from (and former governor of) Maine. He's more optimistic than most about the committee's chances of succeeding.

"There are deals to be had here," King said, according to Politico.

King said that the federal deficit and debt are huge problems and that Democrats need to approach them with more urgency. He said Republicans, though, are going overboard in proposing austerity measures and using growing health costs as an excuse to cut other programs. "It's like attacking Brazil after Pearl Harbor," King told Politico. "It's a vigorous response but the wrong target."

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post reports that a smaller-scale deal is possible, with cuts in programs other than Social Security and Medicare - farm subsidies, for example -  in exchange for relief from the automatic spending cuts called sequestration:

"Several weeks ago, there was some discussion of a bigger deal. The president told lawmakers in early October that he would consider an offer that contained changes to Social Security or Medicare benefits, in exchange for sequestration relief and either an increase in infrastructure spending or the federal minimum wage. But budget discussions have not even ventured in that direction since, several sources told the Huffington Post."

The conference committee meets again on Nov. 12.

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