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GOP, Democrats begin talks on budget deal that could cut $33b

March 31, 2011

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WASHINGTON — After weeks of arguing, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill began negotiations yesterday on a possible budget agreement that would slash federal spending by as much as $33 billion and avert a government shutdown.

“We’re all working off the same number now,’’ Vice President Joe Biden told reporters after meeting with Senate Democratic leaders at the Capitol yesterday evening. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number — what’s included, what’s not included. It’s going to be a thorough negotiation.’’

If approved, the deal would be the largest single-year budget cut in US history.

Lawmakers in both parties are eager to reach such a compromise, which would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September and end the stopgap spending resolutions that have kept Washington operating a few weeks at a time since last fall. The current short-term measure will expire April 8, and congressional leaders have said they don’t want to pass another one.

The two sides have already agreed on $10 billion in cuts; now, the House and Senate appropriations committees are searching for an additional $23 billion to extract from the budget, according to lawmakers and aides from both parties.

“We’re going to try to find some common ground,’’ House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters. “It’s going to take some time. . . . [But] the leadership has said for us to get started.’’

Congressional leaders cautioned that no final deal has been reached. The talks could break down over disputes about how much to cut and from where.

Some conservative House Republicans — led by freshmen who came to Washington on a promise to shrink the government — have said they would reject any proposal that falls short of the $61 billion in reductions the House approved on a party-line vote last month. Senate Democrats immediately rejected that measure.

“There have been discussion for weeks, and those discussions are continuing,’’ said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio. “There’s no agreement, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to.’’ — WASHINGTON POST

Replacement is named for State Dept. deputy
WASHINGTON - The State Department’s number two diplomat, Jim Steinberg, is stepping down and will be replaced by a top Foreign Service officer with years of experience in Middle East affairs, officials said yesterday.

Steinberg will return to academia, becoming dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, officials said.

While highly regarded, he was not considered part of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inner circle and had been rumored for months to be leaving.

President Obama intends to nominate William Burns to replace Steinberg, according to a letter to employees from Clinton.

Burns, an Arabic speaker who was ambassador to Jordan and assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, has played a key role in Iran and Middle East policy.

Burns is undersecretary for political affairs, the department’s third-ranking official.

If confirmed, he would be the first career diplomat to be elevated directly to deputy secretary of state since that job was created in 1972.

Burns has been ambassador to Russia and is the author of a book on US policy toward Egypt. — WASHINGTON POST

Consumer protection chief seeks competitive markets
WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren, the White House, and Treasury Department adviser charged with setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told the US Chamber of Commerce yesterday that the agency will focus on rules to make markets more competitive.

“I believe we share a point of principle: Competitive markets are good for consumers and for businesses,’’ Warren said to the business group. “The important question is how to ensure that markets are competitive.’’

In her speech, Warren argued that regulation and competition are not mutually exclusive and that simpler disclosures for credit products will promote efficient markets.

“The mission of the consumer bureau is to stick with these basic ideas, the ideas that make a free market work for customers and for businesses that want to compete in a fair, transparent, and competitive market,’’ said Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and specialist on bankruptcy laws and how they affect American families.

Warren cited federal regulation of air safety, state rules on insurance, and antitrust statutes as examples of regulation that has worked.

“We can differ over the form and substance of regulation,’’ Warren said. “But let’s not deny the important role of regulation.’’ — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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