The Long Budget Nightmare Is Over

They grumbled a bit, but senators passed the compromise budget deal.

Members of the bipartisan budget conference Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) discuss their initial meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress voted last night to fund the federal budget and increase the nation's debt limit, ending a 16-day government shutdown. 
Getty Images
Sarah Mimms and Michael Catalini
Dec. 18, 2013, 11:56 a.m.

They called it “small.” They called it “flawed.” But Con­gress passed a two-year budget deal, end­ing months of ac­ri­mony on Cap­it­ol Hill and en­sur­ing that the New Year will ring in with far less chance of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

The Sen­ate passed the Bi­par­tis­an Budget Act of 2013 on a 64-36 vote Wed­nes­day, send­ing the bill to Pres­id­ent Obama’s desk, where he has said he’ll sign it.

The mod­est deal, cooked up by Sen­ate Budget Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray and House Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an, sets top-line spend­ing levels for the gov­ern­ment through Oc­to­ber 2015, while re­du­cing se­quest­ra­tion cuts by $63 bil­lion over the next two years.

When asked how she felt after the bill she worked on for nine months fi­nally passed the Sen­ate, Mur­ray was char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally brief. “I am good,” she said. When pressed for more in­form­a­tion, she ad­ded: “I’m glad that we have giv­en some con­tinu­ity back to the Amer­ic­an people.”

The bill sets top-line spend­ing for the re­mainder of fisc­al year 2014 at $1.012 tril­lion — the halfway point between the Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an budgets. Now that it has passed, con­gres­sion­al ap­pro­pri­at­ors can form­ally be­gin the task of fund­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski; her House coun­ter­part, Rep. Har­old Ro­gers; and their sub­com­mit­tee chairs have already be­gun dis­cus­sions and will be work­ing through the hol­i­days to craft a 12-bill om­ni­bus pack­age that Con­gress will ad­dress when law­makers re­turn in Janu­ary. The cur­rent fund­ing mech­an­ism, a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion passed at the end of the Oc­to­ber shut­down, ex­pires Jan. 15.

But while the budget bill will al­low ap­pro­pri­at­ors to do their work and lend some cer­tainty to busi­nesses and fed­er­al agen­cies, it has drawn cri­ti­cism for fail­ing to ad­dress some of the na­tion’s long-term fisc­al is­sues, in­clud­ing en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing, the debt ceil­ing, and tax re­form.

Sen. Mike Jo­hanns, R-Neb., who is re­tir­ing next year, op­posed the budget bill Wed­nes­day, say­ing he wor­ries that while the deal has likely pre­ven­ted a shut­down in Janu­ary when the cur­rent con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion ex­pires, it has taken the pres­sure off Con­gress to deal with big-pic­ture items.

“The pres­sure is off now. Noth­ing will hap­pen for the next 24 months. No en­ti­tle­ment re­form. There’ll be no ser­i­ous budget dis­cus­sion, be­cause now we’re on auto-pi­lot for the next two years,” Jo­hanns said Wed­nes­day.

But in a Con­gress that has failed to ac­com­plish most of its ma­jor goals in 2013, even passing a small-ball budget agree­ment was deemed a suc­cess by sev­er­al law­makers.

“I think the ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans are sur­prised that there’s any agree­ment,” Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., said on the Sen­ate floor while prais­ing Mur­ray Wed­nes­day.

Though the bill passed with a ma­jor­ity of the ma­jor­ity in both cham­bers, not every­one is happy with its con­tents. Demo­crats in both cham­bers have com­plained loudly that it does not ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits, which ex­pire on Dec. 28.

And sev­er­al sen­at­ors in both parties are con­cerned about a pro­vi­sion that will re­duce be­ne­fits for re­tired vet­er­ans. A cadre of law­makers are already push­ing le­gis­la­tion to elim­in­ate the pen­sion cuts, and the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has vowed to take up the meas­ure next year.

“I have no doubt. We will re­peal it. OK? Without a doubt,” Mc­Cain, a mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Wed­nes­day. “I prom­ise.”

In the mean­time, Mur­ray and a bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors plan to in­tro­duce a tech­nic­al fix that will ex­empt dis­abled vet­er­ans from the pen­sion changes. A vote on that change could come as soon as Thursday, and Mur­ray al­lies be­lieve that it could pass eas­ily un­der un­an­im­ous con­sent. The ques­tion is wheth­er the meas­ure will make it to the floor.

“We’re run­ning in­to the same prob­lem that every­body is right now, which is that a there’s a cer­tain num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans that are in­tent on block­ing everything,” a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide said.

That meas­ure has the sup­port of Ry­an, as well as oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to the aide. However, it will not be paid for, adding $600 mil­lion to the budget’s price tag.

Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, are push­ing to end the cuts for all re­tired mil­it­ary per­son­nel. One pro­pos­al from Sens. Ro­ger Wick­er, R-Miss., and Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., among oth­ers, would pay for it through a pro­vi­sion in Obama’s 2014 budget pro­pos­al that would tight­en the proof-of-eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments for in­di­vidu­als re­ceiv­ing the Earned In­come Tax Cred­it.

“What I’m hear­ing around here is a lot of agree­ment that it needs to get fixed,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “My hope is that it will hap­pen pretty quickly, that we’ll get to­geth­er on a bi­par­tis­an basis with the House.”

Des­pite Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s pre­dic­tions this week that the deal would ush­er in a new era of bi­par­tis­an­ship among sen­at­ors, Re­pub­lic­ans are ad­opt­ing a starkly dif­fer­ent view, frus­trated that they can­not of­fer amend­ments on most le­gis­la­tion and can no longer block pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ees since Demo­crats in­voked the so-called nuc­le­ar op­tion.

“The fact that this dis­crim­in­at­ory cut in pen­sions for act­ive duty mil­it­ary can’t be fixed be­cause Sen­at­or Re­id won’t al­low any amend­ments to something that would en­joy broad bi­par­tis­an sup­port says a lot about how broken the Sen­ate is,” said Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I think the Sen­ate is as di­vided as it has ever been, and it’s thanks to Sen­at­or Re­id.”

What We're Following See More »
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

THE QUESTION
How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
19 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

Source:
WEEKEND DATA DUMP
State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.

Source:
×