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Budget Negotiators Near Agreement



WASHINGTON--Budget negotiators all but reached final agreement yesterday on a long-sought plan to slash the federal deficit by boosting taxes on the wealthy, raising levies on gasoline and increasing costs for Medicare recipients.

"I think we have the strong basis for an agreement" that President Bush and enough House Republicans would support for the measure to pass, said Speaker Thomas Foley (D-Wash) after a closed session of Democratic members.

Senate leaders expected little trouble in gaining approval in their chamber.

The White House made no public comment on whether it would support the measure.

But one administration aide, demanding anonymity, said that pending settlement of remaining disputes over the precise changes to be made in Medicare and Medicaid, the president would support the deal.

Foley said the compromise could be wrapped up in time to reach the floor for a vote today.

He said Democrats had reached "a very, very strong consensus" to support the package.

The plan would raise taxes on cigarettes and luxury items and force spending cuts for a variety of federal programs.

But the Democrats no longer are insisting on imposing a surtax on the rich. Rather, Foley said, the new plan "fully supplants the impact of the surtax."

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