WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators were putting the finishing touches Sunday on what would be the first successful budget accord since 2011, when the battle over a soaring national debt first paralyzed Washington.
The deal expected to be sealed this week on Capitol Hill would not significantly reduce the debt, now $17.3 trillion and rising. It would not close corporate tax loopholes or reform expensive health-care and retirement programs. It would not even fully replace sharp spending cuts known as the sequester, the negotiators' primary target.
After more than two years of constant crisis, the emerging agreement amounts to little more than a cease-fire. Republicans and Democrats are abandoning their debt-reduction goals, laying down arms and, for the moment, trying to avoid another economy-damaging standoff.
Details of the agreement remained murky Sunday as aides to the principal negotiators, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., continued to work behind closed doors. Ryan and Murray chair a 29-member conference committee tasked with approving a plan to fund federal agencies through fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, and avoid another government shutdown when a temporary funding measure expires in January.
With lawmakers due back in town Tuesday, aides said Ryan and Murray are likely to bypass the committee and take the deal, if finalized, straight to the full House and Senate. Congressional leaders hope to finish work quickly and leave town for the holidays as soon as Friday.
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
If negotiators navigate the land mines and push an agreement through Congress, there will be one more cloud on the horizon: The Treasury Department will need another increase in the debt limit, perhaps as soon as late February. Congress agreed in October to suspend enforcement of the debt limit until Feb. 7.