Lawmakers press for two-year deal on debt ceiling, federal budget

A push for a two-year budget deal that would avoid a government shutdown when funding dries up Dec. 11,  is coming from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in his final days before he resigns at the end of this week.

The arrangement would designate increases in defense spending as Overseas Contingency Operations funds and would boost civilian agency spending, though not at the levels President Barack Obama requested. Current discretionary spending caps would be raised by $80 billion in exchange for reductions in mandatory portions of the federal budget.

The measure under discussion also would suspend the current $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017, avoiding a separate fight over the nation’s borrowing limit, which is set to expire next month. After that, it would be reset by the Treasury Department to reflect borrowing over that time.

But the deal, whose foundations were laid in meetings between White House officials and senior Republican aides over the last several days, met resistance from conservative House members once the details were presented to them Monday night.

“This is again just the umpteenth time that you have this big, big, huge deal that’ll last for two years and we were told nothing about it,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).

Republican House leaders were still seeking to assuage enough members to ensure the deal’s passage as of Monday evening.

“Let’s declare success,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Republicans, according to Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.).

During a town hall meeting with federal employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology on Oct. 26, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he did not think the government would shut down in December.

“We need, at a minimum, an omnibus budget agreement for this fiscal year that gets rid of sequestration and allows for reasonable growth,” he said. “We have a better than 50-50 shot to get that by Dec. 11. There’s reasonable people currently negotiating, one of which is (Sen.) Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), so we hope that we’ll be able to get that done.”

Cardin said passing a budget is “the least Congress can do.”

“We need to negotiate a budget that allows you to do your work,” Cardin said. “Because if you can do your work, our economy is going to grow, and we’re going to get more jobs, and people are going to be happier. When they’re happier, I’m happier.”

Congress must also raise the borrowing limit — or risk defaulting on its debts for the first time —before Nov. 3. If Congress can’t reach a deal by Oct. 30, the Treasury Department will temporarily stop investing in the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund.

“There’s no question there are a lot of discussions taking place,” Cardin told Federal News Radio. “I know there’s a will to make sure we pay our bills and pass an extension. Until it’s done, I’m very nervous about it. It’s way too close. We never should have taken it this close to the edge.”

Cardin held a far-reaching conversation with NIST employees, who looked to the senator for his plans on reviving mass transit benefits and fostering better collaborations with Congress, scientists and researchers.

But most expressed their concerns that years of sequestration, government shutdowns and continuing resolutions have made it difficult to continue their research and attract and recruit new talent to the agency.

Boehner said he was interested in passing a budget deal when he announced his plans last month to resign. The House is expected on Thursday to elect Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as speaker.

“We’re just trying to get something done as soon as we can,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday as he left the Capitol headed for a lunch hosted by former senators at the Metropolitan Club, where Obama was also to be in attendance.

Asked whether a deal could be announced Monday or Tuesday, Reid said: “We’ll see.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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