House to Vote on Budget/Debt Limit Deal Today – UPDATE

House to Vote on Budget/Debt Limit Deal Today – UPDATE

UPDATE, October 28, 2015, 5:30 pm ET:  The House just passed the deal as an amendment to an unrelated bill (H.R. 1314) by a vote of 266-167. Now it goes to the Senate.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 28, 2015, 9:40 am ET: Today the House is scheduled to vote on a deal worked out by the White House and top congressional leaders to raise budget caps and the debt limit for two years — until after the 2016 elections.  The deal is controversial both for its provisions and the way in which it was negotiated, but is expected to pass.

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his intent to resign from the Speakership and Congress last month, he promised to “clean the barn” before he left, resolving major issues so his successor would not have to deal with them.   Two of the four key issues — reauthorization of spending from the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank — now have cleared the House.  The others — increasing the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and raising the debt limit — are combined in the bill the House will consider today.   All of these still must pass the Senate, but Boehner will have fulfilled his promise by getting them through the House.  The idea is that as outgoing Speaker, he has more flexibility to use Democratic votes to get bills passed even if many Republicans oppose them.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to be chosen by the House Republican Conference as Boehner’s successor at a meeting today and voted in by the full House tomorrow.   Boehner’s last day is Friday.

Ryan is one of the critics of the budget/debt limit deal saying the process by which it was reached “stinks.”   Only top congressional leaders were involved in the negotiations with the White House.  Ryan was the most recent House member to negotiate a major budget deal when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), found a compromise in 2013 that provided stability for budgets in FY2014 and FY2015. 

The Ryan-Murray agreement expired with the FY2015 budget, though, so a new deal was needed for FY2016, which began on October 1.  At the same time, Congress needs to raise the $18.1 trillion debt limit by November 3 to avoid a U.S. default on its debts. 

By limiting participation in the budget/debt limit talks to just the top congressional leaders, Ryan and others are protected from criticism that they approved of the process or the results.

The new bill, the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, was introduced just after midnight yesterday (Tuesday) and would do the following:

  • Increase discretionary spending caps by $80 billion compared to the caps set in the 2011 BCA (about 1 percent).  The increase is spread over two years: $50 billion in FY2016 and $30 billion in FY2017, divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  The increases are at least partially paid for by changes to Social Security and Medicare.
  • Add $32 billion to the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account: $16 billion each year, split roughly equally between DOD and the State Department. 
  • Raise the debt limit through March 2017.

Approval of the deal would get these issues off the table through the
2016 congressional and presidential elections.  The deal does not end
sequestration.  In fact, it extends sequestration
(automatic across the board cuts if Congress exceeds budget caps)
through 2025.

The budget cap increase does not specify how the additional money will be spent.  There is no way to know how much any specific agency like NASA or NOAA will benefit, but the agreement should ease (but not eliminate) fears of a government shutdown this year or next. 

An appropriations process must take place where the money will be allocated to various agencies and activities that could nonetheless be controversial.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said his committee “stands at the ready” to implement the details of the deal. The House has passed six of the 12 regular appropriations bills already; the Senate has not passed any.  The bills that already passed the House, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA, can be changed in negotiations with the Senate.  The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11.

As for government shutdowns, it is important to remember that the 16-day shutdown in 2013 was driven primarily not by budget issues, but by opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Many of the same House and Senate Republicans who fought Obamacare that time are determined to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood now.  Breathing a sigh of relief may be premature.

Still, there is a sense that this new deal is better than nothing, raising hopes among its proponents that it will, indeed, become law.   The House vote today will be the first test.  The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

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