No Budget Deal
Congress left for the Thanksgiving holiday without a deal to avoid a government shutdown. However - there are plans for lead negotiators to continue work over the break - and it appears they are optimistic about reaching an agreement. House Budget Chair Paul Ryan said he's hopeful. Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray said she's working closely with Ryan to find a path forward in good faith. But neither are commenting on the status of the talks. Without an agreement - the government will again shut down when the temporary funding measure expires on January 15th. Both parties want to avoid that fate. That's why people close to the talks say Murray and Ryan have agreed to stay away from hot button issues like tax increases and cuts to federal health benefits and focus on a politically neutral category of potential savings. Spending reductions in farm subsidies fit in to that category. But House Speaker John Boehner has said he doesn't want the budget negotiators to claim savings from farm programs or food stamps.
They're trying to find billions in savings to provide meaningful sequester relief. Reports from those close to the talks are that an agreement will not include more than 100-billion dollars and could be as low as 40-billion dollars. House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers would like the two to find a way to replace the entire annual cost of the sequester - about 109-billion dollars - for 2014 and 2015. Without a 2015 number - Rogers says Congress will be back in this business next year - another crisis-to-crisis, shutdown mode. If Murray and Ryan are unable to reach any agreement - Boehner has said he'll move quickly to pass a temporary measure to keep the government open while maintaining the sequester. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also urged Republicans not to undermine the sequester. McConnell told reporters it's a bad idea to revisit a law that is actually working and reducing spending for the government.
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