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White House, congressional leaders near possible budget deal

If Congressional leaders agree on a deal with the White House to set funding for the next two years, yearly talks of a shutdown could be a thing of the past.

Congressional leaders are nearing a budget deal with the White House that would set government funding levels for the next two years in an effort to avoid yearly talks of a government shutdown, aides tell NBC News.

The deal, which is different but related to negotiations surrounding the nation's debt limit, may be announced as soon as today, congressional leadership aides say.

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Government funding is set to expire on Dec. 11, while the debt limit deadline is Nov. 3, according to the Treasury Department.

Congressional leadership is hoping to reach a budget deal with the White House that would set spending levels through September of 2017 in an effort to return to the regular government funding process, a deal aides say would raise the spending caps set in place in 2011 that would result in deep cuts to both defense and non-defense spending, called sequestration.

"We'd like to settle the topline for both years so that next year we could have a regular appropriations process," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters on Sept. 29.

Speaker John Boehner — who resigns from Congress at the end of this week — has noted his desire to "clean the barn" before leaving office. Therefore, pushing a deal through the House that would require Democratic votes to pass the measure would not come as a total surprise.

While aides say they are "getting close" to a deal, it is also possible the talks could fall apart.

The Senate is currently scheduled to finish a cyber-security bill on Tuesday evening, and McConnell's office says the rest of the week has been left open so that they can consider a possible raise in the debt limit, a budget deal, or both.

House Republican leadership has said they intend to move on legislation to address the debt limit this week.

Both Senate and House Republicans —separately — added conference meetings Monday evening to discuss the path forward.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest would not give out any details on the "progress that is being made" on the budget discussions during his daily press conference but noted that "we've said all along that a budget deal will only be yielded if Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill sit down and work together in good faith to try and reach a compromise."

Earnest added Monday: "The White House has been involved in a substantial number of conversations."

The tentative deal is a byproduct of bipartisan negotiations with the White House that began on Sept. 17, and aides say that any increases in defense spending included in the deal will be met with equal increases for non-defense programs, a key Democratic priority.

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"As I've been saying for a long, long time it's past time that we do away with the harmful draconian sequester cuts," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said today on the Senate floor. "We must also ensure that there's equal defense and non-defense cuts or increases — need to be equal."

Both Sens. Reid and McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon that the talks "are ongoing."

If a deal is struck, it would then set spending levels so that the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate could craft legislation to fund the various departments of the government. By agreeing to spending levels two years in advance, Congress would theoretically avoid the spending fights that have resulted in the short-term stop-gap funding bills that Congress has passed in recent years.

A House aide notes that coupled to this budget package would be a clean suspension of the debt limit until March 2017.

A deal that would push budget negotiations and debt limit talks past 2016 would immensely help the likely next House speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is expected to be elected this week.

Putting off future fights regarding government funding until 2017 would allow Ryan the ability to get a handle on the position and the conference before having to chart a path forward. It was Ryan — along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington — who negotiated the last budget compromise back in December 2013.

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