WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide are finding a whole lot not to like about the compromise spending package unveiled by budget negotiators on Tuesday but congressional leaders remain confident the measure will attract enough support to pass when it comes up for a House vote on Thursday.
Conservatives, like Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), expressed displeasure over a proposed increase in the amount of money the federal government is authorized to spend during the current 2014 fiscal year. Democrats are irate the package fails to include an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
Huelskamp said the proposal that emerged from a conference committee led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, “blows up the only real significant spending restraint passed since the Republicans assumed the majority in the 2010 election” – that being an agreement that imposed a process known as sequestration, which involves across-the-board cuts.
“This budget agreement is more of the same that we’ve seen out of Washington for years,” Huelskamp said. “Instead of providing solutions, it continues the insider game of playing ‘Let’s make a Deal.’ The deal provides for a $63 billion spending increase, raises taxes, and adds to the deficit now – all in exchange for another mirage of spending reductions sometime in the future, most of them five years after (President) Obama leaves the Oval Office.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was equally distressed, maintaining it’s “a huge mistake to trade sequester cuts now for the promise of cuts later.”
“The small sequester spending cuts were not nearly enough to address our deficit problem,” Paul said. “Undoing tens of billions of this modest spending restraint is shameful and must be opposed. I cannot support a budget that raises taxes and never balances, nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.”
The conservative Club for Growth promised to score the vote, telling lawmakers to pass another short-term continuing resolution that preserves sequestration instead.
“All Republicans have to do is nothing, and they will retain the rather modest budget savings that comes from the sequester,” said Club for Growth president Chris Chocola. “Apparently, there are some Republicans who don’t have the stomach for even relatively small spending reductions that are devoid of budgetary smoke and mirrors. If Republicans work with Democrats to pass this deal, it should surprise no one when Republican voters seek alternatives who actually believe in less spending when they go to the ballot box.”
Heritage Action also promised to include the vote on its legislative scorecard. Ryan currently has a 67 percent rating with the PAC.
Tea Party challengers to Senate incumbents also rushed out with their statements of opposition to the deal. Matt Bevin, who is challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accused the minority leader of “dodging a major issue while waiting to see which way the political winds are blowing.”
“This deal is bad for America because it raises spending in the short-term for long-term cuts that everyone knows will never happen. McConnell should lead Republicans in demanding a deal that, at a bare minimum, sticks to the existing savings of the sequester,” Bevin said.
McConnell has been conspicuously absent from weighing in on the budget deal while House Republican leaders flanked Ryan to sing its praises today. Senate Republicans would have breathing room to oppose the bill for political purposes if Democrats united behind Murray.
But if Republicans feel the budget plan doesn’t cut enough, opposition Democrats feel it doesn’t spend enough, especially when it comes to those seeking work.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, is among those who demanded that the committee include an extension of temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation, initiated in 2008 during the height of the financial crisis, which allowed the states to extend that time limit placed on providing unemployment benefits. Failure to preserve the initiative will affect 1.3 million Americans who will find themselves cut off if an extension isn’t approved by Congress by the end of the year. Another 1.9 million Americans will be denied access to the emergency program during the first six months of next year.
Pelosi said Wednesday that Democrats are free to vote for the budget when it comes up for a vote on Thursday but she personally remains uncommitted, maintaining the failure to extend unemployment benefits is “unconscionable.”
“Members will make their own decisions as to where we go with this,” Pelosi said. “And again, we would have preferred something quite different, but we do recognize the value of coming to a decision so that we can go forward with some clarity on other legislation that we want to see.”
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, called Republican refusal to include the extension “shocking,” insisting that lawmakers “must not desert these workers by going home for their own holidays without extending the federal unemployment benefits program.”
“The budget agreement negotiated by Rep. Ryan and Sen. Murray provides temporary relief from sequestration budget cuts over the next two years but does not represent the clean break from budget austerity that our economy so urgently needs,” Trumka said. But at the same time the measure “does nothing for the millions of people who remain without work and asks nothing from the people who caused our economic crisis and continue to benefit from economic inequality.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said he expects to oppose the budget agreement.
“This plan won’t create jobs, get the economy back on track, or meaningfully cut the deficit,” he said.
The two-year budget agreement, which comes after almost two months of negotiations, increases projected spending overall for the 2014 fiscal year from $967 billion to $1.012 trillion, with an additional increase to $1.014 trillion in 2015.
The agreement would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. In fiscal year 2014, defense discretionary spending would be set at $520.5 billion and non-defense discretionary spending would be set at $491.8 billion. It replaces $63 billion in automatic spending cuts in part by reducing spending in some targeted programs while increasing revenues without benefit of a direct tax increase.
The plan extends a 2 percent cut to Medicare through 2023, two years beyond cuts contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The plan also increases airline ticket fees in an effort to offset security costs. Pensions for federal workers and military personnel will be cut.
On CNN today, Ryan argued that the increase in airline fees is not a tax.
“Before 9/11, the person getting on an airplane paid for all of their security when they paid for their ticket. They covered all of it. Since 9/11, that person is paying for less than 40 percent of their security, and then the non-flying public, the non-flying taxpayer is subsidizing the rest of it,” he said. “We think that the users should pay for the services that they’re using, instead of making of some hardworking taxpayer that never uses those services paying for it.”
Despite the spending increase the package manages to further reduce the budget deficit by $25 billion.
On NPR, Murray defended the plan from critics on the left who wanted sequestration completely repealed.
“We replace a significant amount of that sequestration for the first two years in smarter spending cuts and in revenues, which was an important point that I think we need to make,” she said. “That this has to be a balanced and fair approach.”
“Was it the revenue I was pushing hard for, in terms of cooperate — closing cooperate tax loopholes that many people agree we should? No, that got taken off the table because it wasn’t agreed to by the Republicans.”
The two sides were forced to reach a budget agreement by Jan. 15, 2014, or face a shutdown of the federal government when a stopgap spending measure is scheduled to lapse. The budget conference committee was formed as part of an earlier negotiation that reopened the federal government in October after it closed for 16 days in wake of Congress’ failure to reach a spending accord.
Ryan, one of the plan’s architects who served as the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2012, appeared before the House Republican caucus on Wednesday to explain the plan and left the session confident that supporters have sufficient votes for passage.
“We feel very good at where we are with our members,” Ryan said. “We know that this budget agreement doesn’t come close to achieving what we want to achieve on our ultimate fiscal goals. But again, if we can get a step in the right direction, we’re going to take that step.”