WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) is one of 29 lawmakers from both chambers who are about to embark on bipartisan talks to try to craft a long-term budget deal that would help avoid the crises that have regularly stifled Washington.

With a Dec. 13 deadline for the group to complete its work, Toomey said he hopes both sides set "sensible and realistic" goals. He laid out three of his aims Tuesday:

Preserving the savings included in a 2011 deal and carried out in the automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester."

Allowing new flexibility for those cuts, which have worried both Republicans (because of the impact on defense) and Democrats (because of the impact on domestic programs).

Shifting some of the cuts to the government's big "mandatory spending" programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

"That's something that we absolutely ought to be able to find some common ground on," he said, saying President Obama has proposed changes to those programs in the past.

Toomey would also allow federal agencies new flexibility to make the cuts in a more targeted manner and carry out the belt-tightening "in the least disruptive" way possible.

He urged both sides to end the threat of government shutdowns by agreeing to automatically continue spending at previous levels if Congress fails to pass spending authorization in time.

One potential hitch: Obama has said his support for changes to Social Security and Medicare was only as part of a broad budget deal that would also include new tax revenue.

Toomey said he would oppose that.

"There's no reason that we should raise taxes on people when we haven't gotten spending under control," he said.

- Jonathan Tamari