House prepares to vote on bipartisan budget bill
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) on their way to a press conference to announce a bipartisan budget deal on Dec. 10, 2013 [AFP]

The just agreed 2014-2015 US budget deal faces a crucial test Thursday when the House of Representatives votes on the bill, with Speaker John Boehner urging skeptical conservatives to back it.

The agreement sealed between top Democratic and Republican negotiators is seen as a chance to end the brutal cycle of fiscal crises that have plagued Washington in recent years.

The legislation, which sets spending caps at $1.012 trillion for 2014 and $1.014 trillion for 2015, and repeals billions in a package of arbitrary cuts known as sequestration, appears likely to pass the Republican-led House, aides and lawmakers have said.

It would then go to the Senate for a vote, likely next week before the chamber adjourns for the year-end holiday.

Congressional spending authority expires on January 15, and lawmakers will have just one week following the holidays to craft budgets for the Pentagon and other departments.

But some Republican lawmakers, as well as outside conservative groups with sway in Congress, oppose the deal because it does not provide what they see as enough deficit reduction or adhere to spending limits imposed in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

House Speaker John Boehner sought to put his caucus at ease about the bill negotiated by Senate Democrat Patty Murray and House Republican Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee.

"It's not everything that we wanted, but it advances conservative policy and moves us in the right direction," Boehner said.

"Why conservatives wouldn't vote for this, or criticize the bill, is beyond any recognition I can come up with."

The deal includes $85 billion in mandatory savings and non-tax revenue. With $63 billion going toward sequestration repeal, that leaves some $22 billion for deficit reduction.

The agreement hikes "discretionary spending," which is the spending that Congress votes on including for many government agencies, for the next two years.

But it more than offsets those increases by cutting some mandatory costs, something Ryan has long sought, and increasing fees including those imposed on air travelers.

In addition to conservative concerns, the agreement could unravel if enough Democrats rise up in opposition because the bill fails to extend insurance for the unemployed, something President Barack Obama has called for Congress to do this month before the insurance expires on December 28.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said it was "unconscionable" that Republicans rejected that safety-net provision.

But amid congressional talk Thursday that lawmakers in January could retroactively extend the insurance, something Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said was a likelihood, Pelosi was on board.

"Hopefully it will go forward today," she said of the budget bill.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]