Lawmakers 'close' on budget deal

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House and Senate budget negotiators say a deal to turn off part of the sequester could be announced Tuesday.
 
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told reporters she plans a news conference later in the day after briefing the full Senate Democratic caucus on the emerging deal.
 
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“I think we’re close,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters. 
 
The deal would reduce automatic spending cuts known as the sequester by $65 billion to $85 billion over two years. To pay for that spending, negotiators are looking at a variety of proposals, including requiring federal employees to contribute more to their pensions. 
 
While some Democrats raised objections to the deal, Durbin said there was a "positive feeling" about it in the room when Murray briefed her conference.
 
One holdup remains whether there will be a side deal on extending expiring jobless benefits.
 
Democrats appear to have given up on having unemployment insurance benefits in the budget deal, but are angling for a House vote on a separate bill.
 
“We want to make it part of what we do before the end of the year if possible,” Durbin said. 
 
He said negotiators were still trying to find a way to pay for the $25 billion in new spending. One idea being floated is using some of the savings from the farm bill that is being negotiated separately. 
 
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, briefed House GOP leaders in Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office on the status of the talks as Murray was speaking to her colleagues. 
 
“We're getting close," Ryan told reporters afterward.
 
He said he would brief the full Republican conference on Wednesday morning if there was an agreement.
 
"We're making progress," Ryan said. But he added: "It's not over until it's over."
 
He declined to discuss details of the potential agreement or the final sticking points.
 
A deal would prevent a government shutdown on Jan. 15, when the current government funding bill expires.
 
They are trying to agree to a top-line budget number. That figure has been fluid but could be about $1 trillion for 2014, up from $967 billion in current law.
 
Besides increasing federal worker retirement contributions, negotiators have discussed an increase in aviation fees, cuts to hospital payments, and postal reforms.
 
Heading into the Senate Democratic conference meeting, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she is troubled by cuts to federal worker pension benefits being discussed.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was asked whether there is a deal.
 
“Not yet,” he said.