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Deal near on federal spending proposal

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 5:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Budget negotiators are near a deal to ease automatic spending cuts that congressional aides say could boost user fees rather than end corporate tax breaks.

Negotiators are “down to the last few items,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of a 29-member committee aiming to reach an agreement by Dec. 13 that sets federal spending levels for this year and next. Both parties are “careful to say they don't have a deal,” Cole said.

“It's not the grand bargain, but it's a workable deal,” Cole said on Tuesday after a meeting of House Republicans. “In this environment, that's something to be proud of.”

Cole said the deal probably would set a spending cap of about $1 trillion, instead of $967 billion, through mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration and endorsed by the Republican conference. Democrats proposed a $1.058 trillion cap in their budget.

Lawmakers from both parties doubt the possible budget deal would have the votes to pass Congress, although some of the ideas could help form the basis of a stopgap spending measure before the Jan. 15 expiration of government funding.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said he will oppose such a spending plan that leads to automatic cuts set to take effect in January.

“I believe that hurts our national security, it hurts our economy, and it undermines our responsibility of running government at a level that's productive,” the Maryland lawmaker said.

The plan being negotiated by budget committee chiefs Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would avoid major changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security that Democrats are seeking to protect and tax increases that Republicans are ruling out.

Murray is to return to Washington this week while the Senate is on a break to continue negotiating with Ryan.

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