The Senate plan leaves the health care law alone. It would reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending without making major changes in the programs and would reduce the deficit through nearly $1 trillion in tax hikes over a decade, largely on corporations and wealthy earners.
The conferees, selected by House and Senate leaders, have until Dec. 13 to reach an agreement.
That would give House and Senate appropriators enough time to craft spending bills and get them to the floors of their chambers in order to avoid another shutdown Jan. 15, when the short-term funding deal that reopened the government expires. The next round of sequestration cuts — about a $20 billion hit for the military — takes effect in January.
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As pleasant and collegial as Wednesday’s conference committee meeting was, it was also plain that getting to a remedy to the nation’s fiscal woes won’t be easy.
“The House Republican and Senate Democratic budgets before us today represent dramatically different visions of America,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “We will not bridge all the differences, but I hope we can make some progress. . . . But we must be honest with the public about the nature of our differences. To govern is to choose, and these budgets reflect those choices.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was wary of striking a deal that relieved sequestration and raised taxes in return for some entitlement revisions.
“I will not entertain a so-called balanced plan that punishes small business and job creators with higher taxes in exchange for minor entitlement reforms at some point in the future,” Grassley vowed.
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