Conservative Groups Try to Kill Emerging Budget Agreement

'The deal is not going to be what mainstream Republicans hoped for'

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An array of powerful outside conservative groups have united to tank the emerging budget deal being negotiated by party leaders.

FreedomWorks is planning to oppose the deal “in its current reported form,” while Heritage Action and CATO have also announced their disapproval of the agreement being hammered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the respective House and Senate budget committee chairs.

“The deal is not going to be what mainstream Republicans hoped for,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee. “It’ll probably turn out to be a very tough call for a lot of people who want to have an agreement but also want to see progress made in certain areas.”

“I don’t think a deal has to be reached if it’s not a good deal,” said Sessions, who added that it would be “healthy” if the sides could reach an agreement. While Ryan and Murray have marked Friday as their deadline, government funding doesn’t dry up until mid-January. Sessions said it was his understanding that Murray and Ryan will meet Tuesday afternoon to continue negotiations.

Congressional aides with knowledge of the Murray-Ryan negotiations have said the budget agreement would raise discretionary spending from $967 billion for 2014 to about $1 trillion for the next two years, angering conservatives who prefer the lower figure set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, levels currently being enforced by the so-called “sequester.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of the bicameral budget conference working with Murray and Ryan, also told TIME he was worried about the possibility that the deal would include an extension of emergency unemployment insurance. On Dec. 28, about 1.3 million Americans will lose their benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending unemployment insurance would cost about $19 billion in fiscal year 2014.

“At the last minute Democrats seem to be adding things like unemployment insurance that were never part of the discussion,” Portman said.

Sessions said extending the benefit should not be a part of the agreement. Democrats, who largely approve of the proposal to extend unemployment benefits, have yet to fully endorse the deal as well.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we have a deal,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said Tuesday morning, adding that she was pleased the agreement would partially erase the sequester cuts, give her committee a “top-line” number, and avert a host of cost-cutting measures.

“The good news is that we didn’t let them shred the social safety net, we preserved the integrity of Medicare, we didn’t go to chained CPI [Consumer Price Index], we could have the potential to avoid another CR [continuing resolution] or showdown slam-down—so that’s the good part,” Mikulski said.

But Mikulski said she could not give her stamp of approval until she found out how much federal employees would be required to put into their pensions, and if Republicans had decided to close any tax loopholes as part of the deal. The measures would reduce the deficit through raising billions of dollars of revenue.