House and Senate Budget Conferees Reach a Deal, a Few Days Early

House and Senate Budget Conferees Reach a Deal, a Few Days Early

House and Senate budget conferees tasked with reaching a budget deal by December 13 surprised many not only by reaching agreement at all, but a few days early.

House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced today a two-year (FY2014-2015)  budget agreement that replaces the sequester and sets government spending approximately mid-way between the amounts earlier approved separately by the House and Senate. The total amount of government spending recommended for FY2014 in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 is $1.012 trillion.  The House had approved $967 billion while the Senate approved $1.058 trillion.

How those figures filter down to the 12 appropriations subcommittees and the individual agencies — like DOD, NASA and NOAA — they fund remains to be seen, but the fact that agreement was reached at all is a positive sign.   Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) lauded the agreement, saying it means “we can meet national security needs while meeting compelling human needs like education, health and housing.”  Mikulski’s House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), similarly praised the deal, saying it took “courage and resolve.”

The budget conferees had a December 13 deadline based on the agreement that reopened government in October.   Few expected they would meet that deadline, much less beat it.  The House and Senate still must agree to its recommendations.   Then the House and Senate appropriations committees must agree on how to allocate those funds and get the approval of their respective chambers.  That step must happen before January 15, 2014 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.

While the agreement is good news on gridlocked Capitol Hill, it is only for two years rather than 10, does not raise the debt limit (the current agreement on that expires on February 7), and does not reform either entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid or the tax code.  If approved by the House and Senate, however, it should avoid another government shutdown and provide a framework for the appropriations committees to make funding decisions for two fiscal years.

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