Congress OKs bipartisan budget deal
Washington – — Congress sent President Barack Obama a bipartisan budget accord Friday that staves off a destabilizing U.S. default, eases the threat of a federal shutdown and spotlights the pitfalls — and opportunities — posed by the current brand of divided government.
The Senate used a post-midnight, 64-35 vote to ship the package to the White House. The House approved the measure two days earlier by a similarly comfortable 266-167 margin, and Obama plans to sign it Monday.
Yet those no-sweat votes masked turmoil beneath the surface. The Republicans who run Congress opposed the legislation by a 2-1 edge in each chamber, telegraphing challenges ahead for Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their new governing partner, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Here’s the roadmap:
What’s in the agreement?
There’s an extra $50 billion this year and $30 billion next year for spending, split between defense and domestic programs. That’s moderately more than the $1.1 trillion annually the government already planned to spend.
There’ll be no huge increase in Medicare premiums for doctor’s care that would have hit 15 million people, or cuts in 11 million disabled workers’ Social Security disability benefits.
Savings include trimming future Medicare reimbursements to some health-care providers, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and boosting some employers’ costs for insuring workers’ pensions.
Most importantly, the extra dollars make it likely Congress will fund the government after Dec. 11, when agencies otherwise would run out of money and would have to close. And the Treasury Department was given authority to borrow money until March 2017 — avoiding a first-ever federal default next week, which economists warn could badly wound the economy.
Yet the deal underscores the boundaries on how far the two parties can get these days.
Its major achievement was to avoid two awful scenarios that most in Washington were desperate to avoid. Its contents are modest, falling shy of the bigger spending boosts Democrats would love to win and lacking far larger savings Republicans would love to wring from giant entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Smooth sailing ahead?
Lawmakers still must approve additional legislation by Dec. 11 detailing how much money each agency will get, and for which programs.
Initial versions of those bills contain GOP-written provisions that Obama and Democrats consider nonstarters. That includes language to block federal funds for Planned Parenthood, curb enforcement of clean air and water rules, hinder Obama’s efforts to improve trade with Cuba, undo controls over financial institutions enacted after the Great Recession and undermine the president’s health care overhaul.
In a statement Friday praising the budget pact, Obama signaled confrontations ahead, warning Republicans against “getting sidetracked by ideological provisions.”
This week’s votes showed the juggling facing McConnell, R-Ky., and Ryan, R-Wis., when it comes to winning GOP votes for bills Obama would sign. Hardcore conservatives have deep ideological differences with Obama.
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