Hugh McQuaid Photo
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Friday there is momentum in congressional negotiations on reaching a budget deal that could reduce sequestration cuts and provide more certainty on the nation’s tax and spending policies.

Murphy was the guest speaker at a midday gathering of the MetroHartford Alliance and the New England Council at the Society Room in Hartford. He covered a wide range of topics including ongoing budget negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

He said he was hopeful there would be an agreement within the next two weeks.

“We’re hearing some good news. I can’t tell you that this deal is going to get to the finish line but the momentum certainly seems to be heading there,” he said.

Murphy said the agreement represents a partial repeal of automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration and some minor revenue adjustments on federal fees to make up the difference. He said he believed the remaining spending cuts would still hurt the U.S. economy, but not as much as would leaving all the sequestration cuts in place. He said the certainty will help businesses.

“We can deal even with the pain that comes with some of these cuts as long as we know what’s coming,” he said.

Murphy said members of the Connecticut congressional delegation have been closely watching the progress of budget negotiations because of the negative impact the sequestration cuts are expected to have on the state’s defense manufacturing industry.

“That defense budget matters greatly to us . . . We fought hard for a robust program purchase for the F135, for two submarines a year . . . we’ve won substantial military contracting for this state. We are going to jealously guard those gains as we move into this budget,” he said.

The cuts scheduled for next year represent a 12-percent reduction in defense programing, he said. Murphy said that amount would mean “enormous pain” for the state.

“That is devastating not just for the workforce but for the national security of this nation. Nobody disagrees that over time, we’re going to have to scale back defense spending, but you can not at a 12 percent annual chunk,” he said.

Murphy said the agreement also would provide Americans with about a year and a half of “relative certainty” on spending and tax rates.

“The talks are very close . . . on a budget that, while fairly minimal in the changes it would make to the policies that underlie federal spending, would for the first time in a long time give this country some certainty on how we’re going to spend and tax,” he said.

The continuation of unemployment benefits loom large in those budget negotiations.

House Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have pushed to include extending emergency unemployment benefits in the budget agreement, according to reports.

Here in Connecticut as many as 22,000
unemployed residents are expected to lose their benefits at the end of the month if Congress does not approve extending the program.

On Friday, Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal were among 32 senators to sign a letter to the chamber’s leadership, urging it to take action extending the benefits.

“Unemployed workers continue to face a daunting labor market, where for every one job opening, there are approximately 3 unemployed workers,” the letter read. “That’s why it’s imperative that we pass legislation that will get Americans back to work and that we don’t let unemployment insurance terminate at the end of the year.”