McConnell, Biden reach tentative deal on sequester

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — “Fiscal cliff” negotiators spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden have reached a tentative agreement on the sequester, Republican senators said Monday evening.

Those senators said they were optimistic that the Senate would vote on the deal sometime this evening or early morning.

Earlier in the day, McConnell said that the two sides had come to an agreement on tax cuts — extending the current tax rates for individuals making less than $400,000 a year and for couples making less than $450,000, and dealing with the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax. The sticking point was what to do about the sequester. Democrats wanted to delay it, while Republicans refused to do so without spending cuts to offset the delay.

The negotiating parties reached an agreement to delay it by two months with some spending cuts to offset the delay.

Senate Minority Whip John Kyl said there were a “a variety of types of offsets” to the sequester, but declined to specify.

Before senators can vote on the measure, it must be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Senate Democrats must also sign off on the deal — they had not yet met to discuss it as of press time. According to a Senate Republican aide, Senate Democrats had initially asked for a yearlong delay of the sequester.

Nonetheless, Senate Republicans remained optimistic that they could vote tonight, before midnight.

“I hope so,” Kyl said. “I mean I kind of turn into a big pumpkin or something.”

He was cautious though, noting that there was “a lot of technical staffwork to complete putting together the offset packages and get them written out and get them scored. And that’s gonna take some time — that’s why I say I hope we vote tonight.”

Kyl described it as a “a notional agreement” between the two parties, one that was “subject to putting them down on paper, seeing what exactly they look like and how they score, or a change of mind.”

“You know no one is gonna say this is wonderful,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. “The Democrats won’t, and the Republicans won’t. But did our negotiators do a really strong job of having enough for the major concerns? I think they did. I think Vice President Biden came in and he and Mitch McConnell really got down to business, and I think certainly Harry Reid and John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi and the President were all involved in various stages.”

Asked whether the deal would be able to pass the House, Hutchison said she was hopeful, saying that it was a better deal than Republicans would get if they waited until the country fell off the cliff.

“Well,” she said sighing, “I just think that if you look at what we have in this agreement versus what we would have in a two day period or a week or two weeks, I think this is the very best for the most people in America that we can get with a divided congress and a president who wants to increase taxes.”

She said that House members had been kept apprised of the talks, and that she believed they were “aware” of the content of the agreement.

A House Republican conference meeting earlier in the evening did not yield any discussions of the negotiations — members were told they were waiting on the Senate and to “stay tuned,” according to Rep. Bill Young.

Senate Republicans who spoke to reporters made it sound as though most of the conference had signed off on the deal, tentatively, but Sen. Bob Corker said that before he decided for sure, he wanted to see the details.

It’s a “pretty big situation,” he said, adding, “I’d like to spend a little time looking at it.”

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