* Democrat Murray, Republican Ryan announce two-year accord
* Approval could quell government shutdown threats
By Richard Cowan and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 A bipartisan budget deal
announced in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, though modest in its
spending cuts, would end three years of impasse and fiscal
instability in Washington that culminated in October with a
partial government shutdown.
While praised by the Republican leadership of the U.S. House
of Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner and Majority
Leader Eric Cantor, the agreement faces a challenge from some
House conservatives and will require support of the minority
Democrats to pass.
The backing of President Barack Obama, who also hailed the
agreement as "a good first step," should help round up votes of
his fellow Democrats. He urged Congress to quickly pass it.
Obama and most congressional leaders long ago abandoned talk
of larger but increasingly elusive "grand bargains" that would
significantly slash the nation's deficit.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican
Representative Paul Ryan, who appeared before reporters Tuesday
evening to announce the $85 billion budget accord, portrayed it
as the beginning of a new era.
"For far too long compromise has been considered a dirty
word," said Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee,
adding that the uncertainty created by three solid years of
Washington bickering "was devastating to our economic recovery."
Ryan, the Republican Party's 2012 failed vice presidential
candidate who has his eye on either a 2016 presidential campaign
or potentially a House leadership post, wasted no time in trying
to blunt criticism of the pact, especially from fellow
"In divided government, you don't always get what you want,"
said Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee
But he added, "I think this agreement is a clear improvement
on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don't have
a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we
don't have another government shutdown scenario in October. It
makes sure that we don't lurch from crisis to crisis."
Over the last two days, conservative groups, including
Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America,
blasted the deal as it was being negotiated and called on
Republicans to reject it.
Such groups hold sway with some House Republicans, and with
the 2014 congressional elections coming into focus their
opposition could complicate its passage.
The Ryan-Murray plan would blunt the effect of automatic
"sequester" spending cuts by allowing federal agencies and
discretionary programs to spend $63 billion more over two years,
while savings are made elsewhere. It also would provide an
additional $20 billion to $23 billion in deficit reduction over
While the measure could improve Congress' ability to pass
must-do bills to keep the government running, many saw this as
marking an end to any chance of Washington enacting a major new
deficit-reduction law anytime soon.
"I've given up on grand bargain. There's not going to be a
big, grand bargain with (this) Senate and president. That just
is not going to happen," said Republican Representative James
Lankford of Oklahoma.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who could compete against
Ryan in a 2016 White House bid, blasted the deal, saying, "This
budget continues Washington's irresponsible budgeting decisions
by spending more money than the government takes in and placing
additional financial burdens on everyday Americans."
SIDESTEPPING TOUGH ISSUES
The accord was uncharacteristic for a politically polarized
Congress that in recent years has waited until the absolute last
moments to reach stop-gap agreements on the budget and on
raising U.S. borrowing limits to avert historic debt defaults.
Instead, Ryan and Murray came to a handshake before a
non-binding Friday deadline and more than a month before the
Jan. 15 date when existing funds to run many federal programs
Their work was made easier by the simple fact that they
avoided most of their parties' biggest disagreements in budget
debates: the future of big retirement and healthcare programs
that Republicans want to cut and the closing of tax loopholes
that benefit the rich, which Democrats want to attack.
The House is likely to put the deal to a vote by Friday,
before recessing for the year, and a Senate vote might come next
Boehner, who as the House speaker was at the center of
bitter budget fights with Obama in 2011, 2012 and 2013, said:
"While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive
step forward" that, he added, would further cut budget deficits
without tax hikes.
While it included no tax increases in a strict sense, the
Murray-Ryan proposal would cost consumers some money, as in
higher airport security fees that would be included in airplane
Among the details of the bill are $6 billion in cuts to
federal workers' retirement benefits and $6 billion in cuts to
military pensions, according to Murray.
These and other new savings would replace some of the second
round of automatic spending cuts, known as "sequestration," that
were scheduled to begin in January.
Murray and other leading Democrats have been pushing for an
extension of federal jobless benefits that expire later this
month during weeks of budget negotiations.
She told reporters that such a provision is not part of the
agreement but is being discussed by congressional leaders.
Also not addressed in this budget deal is the need to again
raise U.S. borrowing authority sometime next year.
The reaction from at least one market-watcher was positive.
"It is certainly a good start to what would be welcomed relief
from the fiscal dysfunction that has defined Washington," said
Craig Dismuke, chief economic strategist at Vining Sparks in