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Top Democrat Hoyer says GOP is stalling on budget

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 2:36 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 Democrat in the House said Tuesday that the top GOP negotiator on the budget is not interested in finding a compromise that would replace automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

Across the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid out a hard line against efforts to ease the harsh spending cuts, undercutting already faltering House-Senate negotiations to replace the cuts.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland says that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is not engaging in "a serious effort to reach agreement" and hasn't forwarded an offer to Democrats.

"They are not interested in compromise," Hoyer said of Republicans.

Hoyer's comments came as a cloud of pessimism has descended over the budget talks. Democrats insist that some of the deficit savings to replace the cuts come from closing tax loopholes and Republican insist they won't allow that.

"Reaching agreement will require compromise and both sides moving to a compromise position," Hoyer told reporters. "I don't believe that Mr. Ryan believes that if he did that he could bring it back to the House" and get enough GOP votes to pass it.

"Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground. He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way," countered Ryan spokesman William Allison.

McConnell, R-Ky., appeared before a closed-door meeting of House Republicans and urged them to maintain the tight spending limits under sequestration. He reiterated to reporters Tuesday afternoon that he supports the major cuts mandated because of Congress' failure to follow up the 2011 budget deal with alternative cuts.

"I think it is a bad idea to revisit a law that is actually working and reducing spending," McConnell said.

McConnell urged Republicans to preserve the tight $967 billion "cap" on agency operating budgets in the 2014 budget year, even though GOP defense hawks worry about a deeper round of spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon. At the same time, top Republicans on the appropriations committees are worried that the $967 billion cap is unworkable.

Spending on agency budgets passed by Congress totaled about $988 billion in the 2013 budget year that ended on Sept. 30. The 2011 budget law requires an additional cut of about $20 billion from the Pentagon, which has supporters of the military alarmed.

At the same time, many budget experts say the sending year of the sequestration cuts would be harsher than the first round. Several federal agencies found lots of loose change that helped them through the automatic cuts in the 2013 budget year, allowing them to minimize the number of public employees forced off the job and maintain many services. Most of that money, however, has been spent.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart, however, said the Kentucky Republican is open to a budget compromise that would lift the $967 cap required under the 2011 budget deal if offsetting cuts were made to so-called mandatory government programs whose budgets tend to increase as if on autopilot.

"I do hope at the end of the day we support the Budget Control Act. It's the law of the land," McConnell said. "It's been highly successful. We've reduced government spending for the first time since the Korean War."

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