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Senate Democrat says budget deal hinges on spending levels, length of debt limit extension

Nadeam Elshami, (L) chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), speaks with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) after a late-ni
Nadeam Elshami, (L) chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), speaks with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) after a late-ni

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The second-ranking Democratic in the U.S. Senate said on Sunday that a deal to reopen the federal government and avoid a catastrophic default hinged on spending levels for the coming year, the length of a debt limit extension and the severity of automatic spending cuts that began earlier this year.

Dick Durbin, the Democratic Senate majority whip, said negotiations between Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, were focused on these three issues and that he was hopeful a deal can be struck.

Durbin, speaking to reporters after making remarks on the Senate floor, said Democrats want a debt limit extension until March or April 2014, so the debate over whether the government can pay its bills does not hang over the holiday season. He said there had been no response from Republicans on the request.

Durbin said negotiations also were focused on the government's spending level for the new fiscal year. Compromise needed to be reached between the Democratic number of $1.058 trillion and the Republican number of $988 billion, Durbin said.

Durbin said Democrats may not demand a lengthy period to keep the government funded. "We may not need a long CR", he said, referring to a continuing resolution, a piece of legislation that would provide short-term funding to reopen the government.

Durbin said another major stumbling block in negotiations was whether a budget deal would include, or reduce or abolish, the automatic spending cuts that began in March this year.

Durbin conceded that any deal that might come out of the Senate still has to pass the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Republican majority is unlikely to accept it.

The only likely way any deal will pass the House is if John Boehner, the Republican speaker, allows a full vote, thus allowing Democrats to push the bill over the finish line.

"It has to reach the point where Boehner calls it for a vote," Durbin said.

(Reporting By Tim Reid; Editing by Bill Trott)

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