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US budget deal could usher in new era

The pact faces challenges from some conservatives and will require support of the Democrats.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (L) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (R) at the US Capitol on December 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan budget deal announced in the US Congress on Tuesday, though modest in its spending cuts, would end three years of impasse and fiscal instability in Washington that culminated in October with a partial government shutdown.

While praised by the Republican leadership of the US House of Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the agreement faces a challenge from some House conservatives and will require support of the minority Democrats to pass.

The backing of President Barack Obama, who also hailed the agreement as "a good first step," should help round up votes of his fellow Democrats. He urged Congress to quickly pass it.

Obama and most congressional leaders long ago abandoned talk of larger but increasingly elusive "grand bargains" that would significantly slash the nation's deficit.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan, who appeared before reporters Tuesday evening to announce the $85 billion budget accord, portrayed it as the beginning of a new era.

"For far too long compromise has been considered a dirty word," said Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, adding that the uncertainty created by three solid years of Washington bickering "was devastating to our economic recovery."

Ryan, the Republican Party's 2012 failed vice presidential candidate who has his eye on either a 2016 presidential campaign or potentially a House leadership post, wasted no time in trying to blunt criticism of the pact, especially from fellow conservatives.

"In divided government, you don't always get what you want," said Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee

But he added, "I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don't have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we don't have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don't lurch from crisis to crisis."

Over the last two days, conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America, blasted the deal as it was being negotiated and called on Republicans to reject it.

Such groups hold sway with some House Republicans, and with the 2014 congressional elections coming into focus their opposition could complicate its passage.

The Ryan-Murray plan would blunt the effect of automatic "sequester" spending cuts by allowing federal agencies and discretionary programs to spend $63 billion more over two years, while savings are made elsewhere. It also would provide an additional $20 billion to $23 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

While the measure could improve Congress' ability to pass must-do bills to keep the government running, many saw this as marking an end to any chance of Washington enacting a major new deficit-reduction law anytime soon.

"I've given up on grand bargain. There's not going to be a big, grand bargain with (this) Senate and president. That just is not going to happen," said Republican Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who could compete against Ryan in a 2016 White House bid, blasted the deal, saying, "This budget continues Washington's irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans."