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Bipartisan Negotiators Reach Modest Budget Pact

Written by Andrew Taylor and David Espo, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional negotiators reached a modest budget agreement Tuesday to restore about $65 billion in automatic spending cuts from programs ranging from parks to the Pentagon, with votes expected in both houses by week's end.

Officials said the increases would be offset by a variety of spending reductions and increased fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, enough for a largely symbolic cut of roughly $20 billion in the nation's $17 trillion debt.

Among them is a requirement for federal workers to make larger contributions to their own pensions, as well as an increase in a federal security fee that would add $5 to the cost of a typical roundtrip flight.

Officials said Democrats had failed in their bid to include an extension of benefits for workers unemployed longer than 26 weeks. The program expires on Dec. 28, when payments will be cut off for an estimated 1.3 million individuals.

Announcement of the deal came in the form of a statement that the two negotiators, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who planned a news conference to announce details. The lawmakers chair the budget committees in the two houses of Congress, and negotiated the deal in secretive talks over recent weeks.

Officials said that under the agreement, an estimated $65 billion in automatic spending cuts would be restored through the end of the next budget year, which runs to Sept. 30, 2015.

Officials who described the details in advance of the news conference did so on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak on the record.

The same was not true of conservative organizations, which attacked the proposal as a betrayal of a hard-won 2011 agreement that reduced government spending and is counted as among the main accomplishments of tea party-aligned Republicans who came to power earlier the same year in the House.

Americans for Prosperity issued a midmorning statement saying that GOP lawmakers should uphold current spending levels. Otherwise, the group said, "congressional Republicans are joining liberal Democrats in breaking their word to the American people to finally begin reining in government overspending that has left us over $17 trillion in debt."

A day earlier, Heritage Action issued a similar broadside, saying it could not support a deal that "would increase spending in the near-term for promises of woefully inadequate long-term reductions." The group played an influential behind-the-scenes role earlier this fall in events that led to a partial government shutdown, supporting a strategy of refusing to provide needed funds for federal programs until the health care law known as "Obamacare" was defunded.

For their part, liberals were unhappy that the deal was likely to lack an extension of benefits for unemployed workers more than 26 weeks off the job.

The party's leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said at one point last week that her rank and file would insist on an extension for the unemployment program as a condition for supporting a budget deal.

The White House pointedly refused to support her position, and she later made additional comments that her staff characterized as a clarification.

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