US Congress strikes deal to avoid shutdown

US Congress strikes deal to avoid shutdown
House Budget Committee chairman Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) hold a news conference to introduce The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the US Capitol in Washington, December 10, 2013. Budget negotiators in the US Congress have reached an agreement on Tuesday that, if approved by the House and Senate, could restore some order to the nation's chaotic budget process and avoid another government shutdown on Jan 15.

Days before Congress closes for its Christmas break, negotiators reached a bipartisan budget deal that would avoid a government shutdown for at least two years.

The deal - if passed as expected - includes a two-year truce on the kind of legislative battle that led to the shutdown in October.

Though criticised for being limited in ambition, it drew support from US President Barack Obama as well as a number of leading Republicans, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

Mr Obama called it a "good first step" and an important signal that deeply polarised Washington could still find common ground.

"This agreement doesn't include everything I'd like - and I know Republicans feel the same way. That's the nature of compromise," he said.

"But it's a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done. That's the way the American people expect Washington to work."

Mr Boehner's statement similarly hailed the "positive step forward" although he was relatively less effusive.

He said: "Federal spending remains on an unsustainable course. Whether it is offering a plan to balance the budget, strengthen the federal safety net, or cut wasteful spending on behalf of hardworking taxpayers, only one party has led efforts to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington."

The deal is far from a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats, and leaves both sides with things to be unhappy about.

Democrats had to walk away from their push to include an extension to long-term unemployment benefits as part of the deal, while Republicans have to now accept that the severe across-the- board budget cuts they secured in 2011 will be replaced by gentler spending reforms.

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