Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Lowdown on the Budget Deal

Don't look now, but Congress might just get something accomplished this year. The budget deal reached between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is far from the grand bargain many sought, but it is hardly inconsequential. Given the barriers that existed between both parties, the deal is, on its merits, encouraging. If you're a Democrat, it's actually quite good. Here's how you know it's a good deal for Democrats. The wingnuts on the Right already hate it.

The deal, if approved by the House and Senate, would raise spending levels for fiscal 2014 and 2015 to $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion respectively. That is roughly halfway between what the Senate and House called for in their respective budgets. The deal also calls for $63 billion in sequester relief along with $23 billion in net deficit reduction. Gone are at least some of the draconian effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the law that supposedly nobody wanted but which nobody seemed willing to get rid of. Congress would now have greater discretion in administering the remaining $120 billion in cuts over the next two years. Not the slam dunk some wanted but a whole lot better than what could've been.

The deal does not include a debt-limit increase, nor does it tackle entitlements, but to be honest, it was never going to. After getting their lunch money stolen last October, I seriously doubt anyone in the GOP is going to flirt with another debt default and if you can find me anyone in Washington who is willing to put entitlements on the table going into an election year, I've not only got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, but two men in white coats standing on the Manhattan side. It also doesn't provide for an extension in unemployment benefits which are scheduled to expire at the end of this month. That's really the only consolation prize here for the GOP, if you can call it that.

Frankly, I really didn't think Ryan would budge on the $967 billion that his Party and, more to the point, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed as their one accomplishment this year. For those who may not remember, before Ted Cruz threw his hissy fit over Obamacare, John Boehner and Harry Reid had reached their own deal, which kept spending at sequester levels. Democrats hated it, but McConnell and Senate Republicans would not budge. That was one of the reasons why there were no conferences between the House and Senate to iron out a compromise between both budgets. McConnell wouldn't allow it.

The irony is that, thanks to Cruz and his Tea Party cronies, the GOP got boxed into agreeing to, of all things, a conference committee. Credit Murray for holding firm to a compromise that was pretty close to what most Democrats wanted in the first place. They get spending levels increased for the next two years, flexibility in how the sequester cuts go into place and, best of all, we don't have to go through this nightmare scenario every three to six months. The boy wonder got schooled but good.

The only potential problem is the Tea Party contingent in the House that will undoubtedly hate this deal. But my gut tells me that, this time, Republican leadership isn't going to stand for any showboating by the gang of 60. Boehner has already come out and publicly endorsed the deal. I would expect that Eric Cantor and the rest of the establishment Republicans will do the same. As for the Senate, McConnell will try to shit on it - what else is new - but there will be enough Republican support to see it pass.

Given the Obamacare rollout problems, this is the first good news for Democrats in over a month. It also portends some hope that maybe Congress might get back to doing its job. Call me naïve if you will, but even the largest iceberg, if exposed to enough sunlight, will eventually melt.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not bad. There's a very good reason Washington keeps re-electing Patty Murray! I hope they have the good sense to do it again, although she's getting a lot of push-back for her support of the TPP.