On this, Republican budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan and the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, can agree: There won't be a "grand bargain" on the budget.

Instead, the Wisconsin Republican and the Nevada Democrat both say the best Washington can do in this bitterly partisan era of divided government is a small-ball bargain that tries to take the edge off of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

Official Capitol Hill negotiations start next week, but Ryan and Reid both weighed in Thursday to tamp down any expectations that the talks might forge a large-scale agreement after several previous high-level talks have failed.

According to lawmakers, their aides and observers who will be monitoring the talks, long-standing, entrenched differences over taxes make a large-scale budget pact virtually impossible.

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