The bipartisan spending resolution released Tuesday after months of negotiations gives Congress a final opportunity to save face after a congressional year known best for a government shutdown, inactivity and bickering.
Will they take the opportunity?
The budget chiefs, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, unveiled a two-year budget blueprint Tuesday evening that would avoid the possibility of a government shutdown scenario next year. According to Paul and Murray, the resolution would reduce the federal deficit by up to $23 billion over two years without raising taxes and provide $63 billion in what the lawmakers called “sequester relief" that gives spending flexibility to bipartisan interests like education, medical research and defense. That "relief" is offset by other "deficit-reduction provisions," which will be released soon. The resolution would set spending at $1.012 trillion, and $1.014 trillion in FY 2014 and FY 2015, respectively.
The agreement will by no means resolve major differences between the parties in the long run or solve the nation’s ongoing debt and deficit problems. (One observer dubbed it “The Bland Bargain.”) But it's a start, and offers a small opening of bipartisan agreement largely unseen in Washington for years.
Ryan and Murray are both aware they aren't making history, calling the new blueprint “a step in the right direction” and “a clear improvement on the status quo.” If passed, the budget resolution would “get our government functioning at the most basic levels,” Ryan said.
For most of the Obama era, Congress has relied on short-term spending bills to fund the federal government, a process riddled with the constant risk of a government shutdown — which happened earlier this year. Beginning in 2013, sequestration kicked in as a result of congressional failure to reach an agreement on a budget, prompting automatic cuts to domestic and military spending that both parties hoped to avoid. If passed, this new budget will replace the sequestration levels for the next two years.
In a statement, President Barack Obama praised Murray and Ryan for work on reaching a deal.
“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” Obama said. “That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done. That’s the way the American people expect Washington to work.”
The challenge for the plan’s supporters rests not in the White House — presidents don’t sign budget resolutions — but in convincing other lawmakers to adopt the plan. On Wednesday, Ryan will attempt to sell the plan to the Republican-led House and Murray will make the case the Democrat-controlled Senate.
On the right, conservative advocacy groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks panned the budget and urged Republicans not to support it. On the left, some liberal Democrats want more spending on programs than the budget allows, including extensions for unemployment benefits that expire Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans.
“I’m confident we won’t have 100 percent of the Senate or 100 percent of the House,” Murray predicted, but both she and Ryan appeared optimistic that it could pass both chambers.
In the House, the plan received quick support from Republican leadership. Republican Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor both released statements praising the plan.
“While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings,” Boehner said in a statement. “This framework is consistent with sequester replacement legislation passed by the House in 2012.”
For lawmakers facing re-election next year, passing the resolution — whether they vote for it or not — would allow them to avoid ongoing messy fights over controversial stop-gap spending bills and a government shutdown. Looking ahead even further, passage could offer Ryan, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, an opportunity to test his chops as a bipartisan reformer, one who successfully negotiated a deal that reduced the deficit without raising taxes. (We'll see.)
The House plans to vote on the measure within a few days with the Senate scheduled to follow next week.