Conference committee budget talks open as deficit shrinks

Oct. 30, 2013 at 7:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- A House-Senate conference committee Wednesday began work on a federal budget as the government said the U.S. deficit was at a five-year low.

The conference committee -- led by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- is to come up with a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 to replace a temporary government funding agreement scheduled to expire Jan. 15. The temporary funding agreement ended the government shutdown that began Oct. 1 when Congress was unable to agree on a spending plan.

"Nobody has to abandon their principles," Ryan -- chairman of the House Budget Committee -- said as Wednesday's meeting began. "Instead, we need to find out where our principles overlap."

"We won't resolve all our differences here," Ryan said.

Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, said the conference committee should at the very least develop a spending plan to replace the so-called sequester -- an across-the-board spending cut that took effect in January in the absence of congressional agreement on a budget.

However, Murray said that will be a difficult task because House and Senate budget proposals "are very different even for just this year," Roll Call reported.

"But if both sides are willing to move out of their partisan corners and offer up some compromises, I am confident it can be done," she said.

The session came as the Treasury Department said the U.S. deficit for fiscal year 2013 was $680 billion, a five-year low, mainly due to higher revenues and spending cuts. The gap is the smallest since 2008, when the deficit was $459 billion, and is 38 percent lower than the fiscal 2012 deficit, $1.1 trillion, MarketWatch reported.

The treasury recorded a $75 billion surplus for September, MarketWatch said.

Administration officials said the White House may not insist on raising taxes to offset some scheduled spending cuts in a budget deal with Republicans, The Wall Street Journal reported. The possible shift could help end a White House-GOP standoff that has persisted since 2010, said the Journal, which first reported the development.

The newspaper said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., asked administration officials this month whether President Barack Obama was open to accepting a budget deal without new revenues but with cuts to some entitlement programs. The officials told him Obama was open to that approach if it is part of a very narrow deal to replace part of the $100 billion in automatic spending cuts due to take place in January in the next round of the sequester.

The officials said congressional Democrats might not agree to any entitlement cuts, the Journal reported.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said tax revenue would need to be part of any deal to roll back the sequester. Obama previously endorsed that position.

The entitlement cuts the White House is willing to consider to ease the sequester cuts do not involve Social Security or Medicare, the Journal said.

Instead, they involve other entitlement programs, such as agriculture subsidies, which both parties have eyed, the newspaper said.

The sequester involves about $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years in funding for military, housing, education, research, transportation and other programs.

The 29-member House-Senate conference committee has set its sights low, the Journal said. Some committee members say they would be satisfied to ease the sequester cuts without increasing the deficit.

The budget would run through Sept. 30, 2014.

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