Senate Passes Budget/Debt Limit Deal – UPDATE

Senate Passes Budget/Debt Limit Deal – UPDATE

UPDATE, November 2, 2015:  President Obama signed the bill into law today.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 30, 2015:  At about 3:00 am ET this morning (October 30), the Senate passed the budget/debt limit deal negotiated by top congressional leaders and President Obama.  The deal was reached just days ago, but now has cleared Congress and will be sent to the President for his signature.

The Senate vote was 64-35.  Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) voted against the bill, while Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor.  Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (VT), who is an Independent in the Senate, voted in favor.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314) increases the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act by $50 billion for FY2016 and $30 billion for FY2017.  It also adds $32 billion over those two years for Overseas Contingency Operations to fund the war in Afghanistan, for example.  Most of the increases are offset by changes to Social Secuity and Medicare.  It does not end sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts that automatically go into effect if Congress exceeds the caps.  In fact, it extends sequestration through 2025.

The bill also raises the debt limit through March 16, 2017, past the 2016 congressional and presidential elections.  It does not set a new limit, but suspends the limit until that date.

Although very controversial in both the House and Senate, sufficient votes were cast to get it through.   House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) imminent departure and the need to raise the debt limit before November 3 motivated the quick action.   Boehner’s term as Speaker ended yesterday after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected and sworn in as his replacement.  Boehner was one of the handful of top congressional leaders who negotiated the deal with the White House.  He was willing to rely on Democratic votes to get it passed even though many Republicans opposed it.  The vote in the House on Wednesday was 266-167, with all 167 no votes cast by Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) chose the wee hours of the night to get the legislation passed in that chamber.   A procedural vote to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate was taken beginning at 1:01 am ET this morning.  In that case, 60 votes were needed to invoke cloture and proceed with the bill. That vote was 63-35.  After about an hour and a half of debate, the vote on the bill itself was called, passing by a similar margin (64-35).  That action cleared the bill for the President at a dizzying pace in a town known more for political gridlock.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill quickly. 

The $80 billion total increase in the FY2016-2017 spending caps are at the top level.  There is no detail on how the extra funds will be spent so there is no way to know how much more, if any, NASA or NOAA will receive compared to the congressional action that has already taken place on their FY2016 appropriations.  It is now up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allocate the funding across the 12 regular appropriations bills.   All 12 likely will be combined into a single “omnibus” appropriations bill.  House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed optimism that work can be completed by December 11 when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.

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