‘Rebuilding our broken budget process’: Senate advances bipartisan budget agreement
The Senate advanced a bipartisan budget deal Tuesday, virtually assuring passage of a bill that sets spending caps for the next two years and reduces prospects of a US government shutdown in 2014.
The bill, which cleared a Senate procedural hurdle with a bipartisan 67-33 vote and has already won House approval, is now expected to pass Congress this week before lawmakers go on their year-end recess.
President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign the deal into law, which increases the $967 billion cap for 2013 spending to $1.012 trillion next year, and importantly brings some normalcy to a budget process rocked by chaos in recent years.
Passage will allow lawmakers to spend their two-week break crafting spending plans for government agencies such as the defense and agriculture departments.
Those appropriations must be made and agreed to by January 15, or lawmakers risk a government shutdown.
Tuesday’s advancement required 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster, or blocking tactic. The deal received support from all Democrats and 12 Republicans, a surprising number given the opposition voiced by conservatives who said the deal failed to sufficiently rein in federal spending.
A vote on final passage, which requires a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber, is expected Wednesday.
By all accounts the deal is a modest one. It eliminates $63 billion in blunt automatic spending cuts known in Washington as sequestration, and reduces the deficit by about $23 billion.
The accord, struck by Democratic Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray and Republican House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, does not close tax loopholes or include an extension of unemployment benefits, something Democrats have complained bitterly about.
Nor does it address reform of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, an approach long-advocated by Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.
“This bill is a compromise and that means neither side got everything we wanted, and we both had to give a bit,” Murray told her colleagues.
“It doesn’t tackle every one of the challenges we face as a nation. That was never the goal,” she added.
But it “takes the first steps toward rebuilding our broken budget process.”
Washington has been embroiled in a near-constant cycle of fiscal warfare since 2011, when a grand bargain between Obama and Republicans collapsed.
The gridlock came to a head in October, when the feuding parties failed to agree on a budget and plunged the government into a costly, 16-day shutdown.
Senator Mike Enzi encapsulated the concerns of many Republicans, complaining after the vote that the latest deal busts through the spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and “promises” to cut future spending as far down the track as 2022.
“We’ve seen how that story ends,” Enzi said. “Ultimately the spending cuts will never materialize.”
And the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, also voted against advancement, saying: “Congress should continue to adhere to the fiscal constraints both parties agreed to under the Budget Control Act.”
But Senate Republican Saxby Chambliss said that for all its faults, he supports the bill because it “lays the groundwork for the next chapter in our pursuit of fiscal sanity.”
The new spending on defense and domestic programs is to be offset by raising the amount new federal workers must contribute to their retirement plans, and boosting air travel fees to the Transportation Security Administration.
With the House of Representatives already on recess until the new year, the Senate is racing to conclude its business this week before it too goes on break.
Lawmakers will consider a huge defense spending bill as well as a raft of executive nominees including Janet Yellen, Obama’s pick to be the new head of the Federal Reserve.
The current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, is scheduled to step down on January 31 after eight years in the job.