Paul Ryan And Patty Murray Reach Budget Deal, But Can It Pass Congress?
As part of the agreement that brought the sixteen day Federal Government shutdown to an end in mid-October, Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, along with their fellow members of the Budget Committees in the House and the Senate were given the task of reaching a budget deal no later than December 13th, about one month before the Continuing Resolution that was also passed at that time is set to expire. Since then, the resulting Conference Committee, which largely seemed to have been following the lead of their respective Chairs and Ranking Members, has been deep in negotiations over the outlines of a budget that would have at least a snowball’s chance of making it through Congress. Last night, just in time for the nightly network news broadcasts, Ryan and Murray took to a podium at the Capitol to announce that they had indeed reached a deal, but the details of that deal make one wonder if it might his a snag in the House or the Senate:
WASHINGTON — House and Senate budget negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a budget deal that would raise military and domestic spending over the next two years, shifting the pain of across-the-board cuts to other programs over the coming decade and raising fees on airline tickets to pay for airport security.
The deal, while modest in scope, amounts to a cease-fire in the budget wars that have debilitated Washington since 2011 and gives lawmakers breathing room to try to address the real drivers of federal spending — health care and entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security — and to reshape the tax code.
For a Capitol used to paralyzing partisan gridlock, the accord between Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, was a reminder that even fierce political combatants can find common ground. Mr. Ryan praised the deal in the most elementary terms as a way to “get our government functioning at its very basic levels.”
Both negotiators promised an end to uncertainty and the lurching from crisis to crisis, at least for a year. But both parties sought to preserve their ability to force another showdown over fiscal matters; the government’s statutory borrowing authority will lapse as early as March, another potential crisis.
The budget deal also allows Republicans to remain focused on attacks on the health care law. And party members who are thought to have White House ambitions — like Mr. Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — are likely to use this agreement, and future fights over money, to further their prospects in 2016.
Still, the announcement drew praise from House Republican leaders, who are likely to put it to a vote by Thursday.
“While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings,” Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said in a statement.
President Obama also weighed in. “This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise,” he said. “But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of shortsighted, crisis-driven decision making to get this done.”
The proposal quickly drew fire from conservatives who saw it as a retreat from earlier spending cuts and a betrayal by senior Republicans. Some excoriated Mr. Ryan, the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012, for rolling back immediate spending cuts in exchange for promised savings that may never materialize.
“We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American dream,” Mr. Rubio said. “Instead, this budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.”
The agreement, which would finance the government through Sept. 30, 2015, would eliminate about $63 billion in across-the-board domestic and military cuts. But it would provide $23 billion in deficit reduction by extending a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers through 2023, two years beyond the cuts set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Under the agreement, military and domestic spending for the current fiscal year that is under the annual discretion of Congress would rise to $1.012 trillion, from the $967 billion level it would hit if sequestration spending cuts were imposed next month. Spending would inch up to $1.014 trillion in the 2015 fiscal year.
The figure for this year is about halfway between the $1.058 trillion passed by the Senate this spring and the $967 billion approved by the House.
Military spending would be set at $520.5 billion this fiscal year, while domestic programs would get $491.8 billion. The $63 billion increase over the next two years would be spread evenly between Pentagon and domestic spending, nearly erasing the impact of sequestration on the military. Domestic programs would fare particularly well because the 2 percent cut to Medicare health providers would be kept in place, alleviating cuts to programs like health research, education and Head Start.
The increase would be paid for in part with higher airline fees that underwrite airport security. Higher contributions from federal workers to their pensions would save about $6 billion. Military pensions would see slower cost-of-living increases, a $6 billion savings over 10 years. Private companies would pay more into the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
States receiving mineral revenue payments would have to help defray the costs of managing the mineral leases, saving $415 million over 10 years. Deepwater, natural gas and other petroleum research programs would end.
Democrats gave up their demand that the deal extend unemployment benefits that expire at the end of the month, but they hope to press for an extension in a separate measure.
For those interested in a more detailed listing of what’s contained in the deal, Suzy Khimm does a good job of summarizing it over at Wonkblog. Leaving the details aside for the moment, though, the real question here is the likelihood of being about to get this budget through Congress, preferably before Friday when the House of Representatives is scheduled to be in session for the last day before going on holiday break. As we learned during the budget deal, that depends on several factors, most notably the extent to which the most conservative members of the House GOP caucus are going to oppose the deal, and whether or not the House GOP Leadership will be willing to put the deal on the floor even if they’re unsure that it will garner a majority of GOP votes, thus violating the so-called, although somewhat mythical, “Hastert Rule.” As noted above, the immediate reaction from many on the right has been largely negative, thanks in no small part to the extent to which the deal busts through the sequester cuts that had been negotiated as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011:
Opponents of the proposal include the anti-tax Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America, Americans For Prosperity, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
The plan, which was unveiled Tuesday, would fund the federal government through the fall of 2015. It would do away with half of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration and replace them with savings from other programs.
“This proposal swaps debt reduction today and next year, for the dubious promise of debt reduction a decade from now,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.
In a statement opposing the plan, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) drew from the “Popeye” cartoon, saying there is a “recurring theme in Washington budget negotiations. It’s I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity, decried the proposed end of spending levels imposed by sequestration.
“The American people remember hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester and are not pleased to see their conservative representatives so easily go back on their word to rein in government over-spending,” he said.
On the campaign trail, some Republican candidates running to the right of Senate incumbents started taking aim at the plan even before it was officially released.
Republican Matt Bevin, who is running to the right of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the plan would allow Washington to “continue its reckless spending.” State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who is challenging Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), called the plan a “complete abdication of Washington’s governing responsibility.” Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’s primary opponent Milton Wolf urged him to vote against the Ryan-Murray plan.
Notwithstanding comments like these, which are sure to continue as the week goes on, the GOP leadership in the House seems determined to go forward with a vote on the deal in the House this week:
House Republicans are planning a Thursday vote on a bipartisan budget deal, one of their last legislative acts before leaving Washington for the rest of 2013.
Despite some conservative opposition inside and outside the Capitol, Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are confident they will secure enough votes from House Republicans to pass the bill crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). That would set up a final in the Senate and clear it for President Barack Obama’s signature, temporarily ending the budget wars that have consumed Washington for much of the last two years.
Ryan, who conservatives generally revere, is making the case to his colleagues that this agreement, which sets spending levels and replaces across-the-board spending cuts for two years, is better than allowing a second round of sequester cuts to take effect in early 2014.
“By having a budget agreement that does not raise taxes, that does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents a government shutdown, we think is a good agreement,” Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters after a closed meeting Wednesday morning. Ryan added that he feels “good” about how his House colleagues reacted to the agreement.
Additionally, Speaker John Boehner was unusually blunt in responding to the conservative groups that have come out against the deal, calling their criticisms ridiculous:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) lit into outside conservative groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks on Wednesday morning foropposing the just-negotiated budget deal before they even knew the details.
“You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?” Boehner said to a journalist who had asked him about the groups’ opposition. “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.”
Given the fact that there were groups and politicians taking to Twitter and Facebook criticizing the deal last night before its details had even been posted on the web sites of the respective Budget Committees, Boehner’s criticism is pretty accurate. That kind of reaction indicates that, for many groups, it isn’t about being against this specific deal, it’s about being against any deal at all unless it includes absolutely everything that they want, which of course is impossible in an era when one half of Congress and the White House are controlled by the opposition party. This is the same myopic partisanship that led to the shutdown is October, of course, and one would have thought that these people would have learned their lesson. Of course, it’s possible that all these pronouncements are little more than fodder for the Tea Party masses and that it won’t be backed up by any kind of significant effort to block a deal from going forward. Indeed, that seems to be the implication of what Molly Ball is reporting at The Atlantic:
[C]onservatives seemed resigned to the agreement. Ryan and Speaker John Boehner had briefed the conference on it earlier in the day, and no revolt seemed to be brewing. “This bill was designed to pass with bipartisan support in the House,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. “It was not designed to get most of the people on this dais.” The far right and far left could cast their protest votes against it, but with the bulk of both parties supporting it, it would easily pass. The agreement is expected to come to the floor of the House on Thursday.
Reporters at the briefing also wanted to know if Ryan, by making this deal, would be seen as having sold out the right. The former vice-presidential nominee had previously been known for pushing a big-idea budget plan centered around reforming Medicare. The budget deal was a clear bid by Ryan to temper his ideological profile and be seen as a pragmatist with leadership qualities. But would teaming up with Murray get him branded a sellout by the conservative grassroots, the way Rubio was for pushing immigration reform?
His conservative colleagues rebuffed that notion, extolling Ryan’s conservative credibility and saying he’d done the best he could in difficult circumstances. “He got the best deal he could, but he was up against a liberal-controlled Senate that completely disregarded the law of the land,” said Representative Andy Harris. “This will not diminish his standing in any way,” added Representative Vicky Hartzler, who said it was only out of respect for Ryan that she hadn’t ruled out voting for the deal. “He has been a marvelous soldier in coming to this agreement.”
The conservatives’ tone was downcast: They seemed to know they’d been beaten. “I suspect that in the next couple of weeks you will see the standing of Republicans go down, because once again we are making empty promises to the American people,” Labrador said. “Congress has an 8 or 9 percent favorable rating because we continue to spend. We continue to make promises to the American people that we don’t keep.”
To cut through all the rhetoric, it seems obvious from what’s quoted above that conservatives in the House, and the Senate, know that they overplayed their hand in September and October and that the rest of their party is not going to back another effort to shut the government down over whatever disagreements they may have with the deal that Ryan and Murray have reached here. They’ll make their speeches, of course, and many of them will vote against the deal. Both of those things will give them the record they want to run on in 2014, which is obviously important to them. However, it seems unlikely that there are going to be enough hardcore conservatives in either chamber of Congress to block the bill from passing. Of course, we won’t know that until the votes are taken later this week, so one should always stay tuned. However, as it stands, this budget deal, as imperfect as it is, will pass in enough time for Congress to go home for the holidays believing that it has accomplished something. Then, when they return, they’ll have to figure out a way to turn this budget outline into appropriations bills for each of the governments departments and, of course, deal with the issue of the Debt Ceiling, which we’re scheduled to hit yet again some time by mid-February.
I suppose its noteworthy that Congress has accomplished something here and actually seems to be close to passing a budget for the first time in years rather than relying upon Continuing Resolutions. Given that this is supposed to be one of their basic functions, though, I’m not sure they should be congratulated for doing what they ought to have been doing all along.