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Congress strikes budget deal

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., right, hold a news conference Tuesday to introduce The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Reuters photo)

By Richard Cowan and David Lawder

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan budget deal announced in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, while modest in its spending cuts, would end nearly three years of partisan stand-offs between Democrats and Republicans that culminated in October with a partial government shutdown.

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Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan appeared before reporters to announce the $85 billion budget accord, which still must be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

“For far too long compromise has been considered a dirty word,” Murray said, adding that the uncertainties 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 job, wasted no time in trying to blunt criticisms of the pact, especially from fellow conservatives.

“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan declared.

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.”

It 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.

The accord was uncharacteristic for a Congress that in the past has found little common ground and has waited until the absolute last moments to reach stop-gap agreements on the budget and on raising U.S. borrowing limits to avert historic debt defaults.

Instead, Ryan and Murray came to a handshake before a non-binding Friday deadline and more than a month before the Jan. 15 date when existing funds to run many federal programs expire. The House is likely to put the deal to a vote by Friday, before recessing for the year, and a Senate vote might come next week.

House Speaker John Boehner, who was at the center of bitter budget fights with President Barack Obama in 2011, 2012 and 2013, said: “While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward” that he said would further cut budget deficits without tax hikes.

Obama called the deal “a good first step” and urged Congress to quickly pass it.

Among the details of the bill are $6 billion in cuts to federal workers’ retirement benefits and $6 billion in cuts to military pensions, according to Murray.