No shutdown in sight
Congress likely to approve budget pact, despite grumblings
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes reporters' questions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday as House Republicans signaled support for a budget deal worked out yesterday between Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. AP photo
WASHINGTON — Congress’ bipartisan budget deal appears headed for passage, perhaps as soon as today in the House of Representatives, despite protests from angry conservatives and skepticism from wary Democrats.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected criticism of the deal from conservative groups as uninformed and self-serving.
“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” Boehner said Wednesday. “This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”
The deal also got a boost from the White House, as the Obama administration issued a statement of support.
“The legislation would allow for critical investments in areas such as education, infrastructure and scientific research, while keeping the nation on the path to long-term deficit reduction,” said a statement from the Office of Management and Budget. “The legislation includes targeted fee increases and spending cuts designed in a way that does not hurt the nation’s economy or the federal government’s commitments to seniors.”
The new deal would fund the government through the rest of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and fiscal 2015 as well. It would spend $45 billion more this year than scheduled spending cuts called the sequester would have allowed, and $18 billion more next year. The agreement aims to offset the increased spending with $85 billion in new revenue over 10 years. The biggest items include $12 billion from higher airline passenger security fees and a nearly equal amount in changes in federal employee pension contributions.
People hired after Dec. 31 typically would see contributions increase, while younger military retirees would get lower cost-of-living increases. Over 10 years, the new plan would cut projected deficits by $20 billion to $23 billion.
Democrats were largely unenthusiastic, mainly because of the federal pension changes and the absence of any extension of unemployment insurance benefits, which expire soon.
Democrats remain concerned about extending emergency unemployment benefits, which is unaddressed in the agreement. Those benefits expire Dec. 28 and could affect about 1.3 million people. Democrats want an extension. Many Republicans are balking, saying that the economy is rebounding and that extending benefits further discourages people from seeking work.
Democrats emphasized their displeasure Wednesday in a letter to Boehner, urging him not to adjourn the House until it takes up a measure to extend emergency unemployment benefits for one year. The letter was signed by 166 House Democrats.
“I’m deeply disturbed that this deal does not include an extension of unemployment insurance,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a co-signer of the letter, said Wednesday. “Congress should not leave town for the holidays until we have extended these vital benefits.”
Democrats are widely expected to back the deal, as it’s backed by Reid and Obama and was crafted partly by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., regarded highly by liberals.
The House is seeing a similar dynamic with conservatives, who blasted the agreement. Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called the deal a key 2013 vote and urged lawmakers to vote against it.
The support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the deal’s other architect, is considered crucial. He’s viewed in conservative circles as a budget hero.
“Look, our budget that we passed here in the House, the Republican budget, represents our ultimate goal and our ultimate vision: Balance the budget, pay off the debt,” Ryan said after a meeting of House Republicans.
“But we understand in this divided government we’re not going to get everything we want.”