Washington – Congressional negotiators have come to an agreement they believe will prevent a government shutdown, according to several Democratic sources.
Negotiators were signing off on a massive spending bill that funds the government through October 1, 2012, they told CNN Thursday night.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the conference report Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nevada, said negotiations were continuing on extending the payroll tax cut and other provisions that expire at the end of the year, including an extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in payments to doctors who provide Medicare services.
Democrats want these programs to be extended through 2012 , but they are weighing the idea of a fallback two-month extension to ensure there will be no negative impact on Americans if Congress fails to reach a broader deal.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the two-month extension “clears the way for negotiations to continue on a larger deal.”
Debate over these issues and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have stymied efforts to come up with a spending plan that would fund the government after midnight Friday.
Earlier Thursday, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as well as House Speaker John Boehner and White House press secretary Jay Carney signaled progress toward reaching compromises on the two main pieces of legislation under discussion before Congress goes into recess until next year.
Reid and McConnell held an hourlong meeting Wednesday night that included Boehner, R-Ohio, in a last-gasp bid to end the political wrangling that threatened a partial government shutdown and raised public frustration with Congress even further.
The Senate was expected to reconvene Friday morning.
A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed public discontent with Congress at record levels, with two-thirds of voters saying most lawmakers should be voted out of office next year.
Failure to pass the payroll tax measure, a major part of President Barack Obama’s job creation plan, would cost working Americans an average of $1,000 in higher taxes next year.
Obama kept up the pressure on Congress to act, saying legislators “should not and cannot” go home for vacation scheduled to begin Friday without first passing the payroll tax-cut extension that will benefit 160 million Americans.
“There’s no reason the government should shut down over this,” he said.
After the Senate chaplain opened Thursday’s session with a prayer for legislators to have “wisdom and understanding,” Reid said in floor remarks that there was no need for him and McConnell to continue staking out their positions as they had in harsh language the day before.
Over the next few hours, Reid said, “We’re going to try to … work toward resolving some of the outstanding issues.”
His remarks indicated the Senate would take up the spending proposal first, as sought by McConnell, to keep the government funded past the midnight Friday expiration of a temporary resolution passed earlier this year.
At the same time, Reid said, he and McConnell “have been in discussion” on the payroll tax measure and “we hope that we can come up with something that will get us out of here in a reasonable time in the next few days.”
McConnell agreed with Reid, saying the two held “useful discussions about how to wrap this session up.”
“We hope to be able to pass a combination of appropriation bills, and we are working hard to figure out a way to resolve the remaining differences on the payroll tax extension and the related issues that are important to both sides, and we are confident and optimistic we’ll be able to resolve both on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said.
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