Merry Christmas, America. The House just took a step toward ensuring an entire year without government shutdowns.
Despite a brief minirevolt among hard-line conservative Republicans, the House on Thursday approved a budget resolution that will set spending levels into 2015 with bipartisan support. The nonbinding resolution aims to replace parts of sequestration by offering $63 billion of “sequester relief” and will set spending levels at $1.012 trillion in fiscal year 2014 and $1.014 trillion in fiscal year 2015.
The House passed the resolution 332-94, and the Senate is expected to pass it next week. Because budget resolutions are not intended to become law, President Barack Obama will not sign it, but the measure will provide the appropriations committees in the House and Senate guidelines for spending over the next two years.
The agreement, which is by no means historic, comes five years after Congress agreed to its last bicameral budget resolution and several failed attempts at a grand bargain. The resolution, which was negotiated between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, takes only minuscule steps toward reining in the federal debt and deficit. It includes no substantive reforms to the tax code or to the nation’s costly entitlement reforms, nor does it increase tax rates (although it does increase so-called fees on certain services).
Republican and Democratic leaders appeared satisfied with the proposal when it was released earlier this week, but they weren't triumphant about its achievements. Given the recent level of discord, lack of productivity and general toxicity in Washington, many appeared impressed with themselves by the mere fact that the parties could come to any sort of agreement at all.
"We're very unhappy about it, but not enough to say, therefore we're going to make matters worse by not having an agreement," Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
At issue for many Democrats is the lack of tax increases in the proposal and the absence of an extension for unemployment insurance. Republicans complained that the measure doesn’t go far enough to achieve debt reduction.
Earlier this week, a coalition of conservative groups moved to pressure Republican lawmakers to oppose the deal, an effort that received a sharp rebuke from Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who was furious that they spoke out against the proposal before it was finalized.
“It's not everything I wanted, but when groups come out and criticize an agreement that they've never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are,” Boehner told reporters on Thursday. “I came here to cut the size of government. That's exactly what this bill does. And why conservatives wouldn't vote for this is — or criticize the bill — is beyond any recognition I can come up with.”
In the end, conservative groups couldn’t muster enough opposition, and enough Democrats came on board to pass the bill.
The result will be a future untainted by the threat of government shutdowns for the next two years. But do not lose heart, political animals! Congress will no doubt find plenty of other petty issues to debate in the meantime.