A two-year budget deal has been approved in Congress today when the Senate approved it on a 64-36 vote. The vote ended a year of polarized debate on fiscal matters. The House of Representatives had previously approved the bill.
Nine Republicans voted with all 55 members of the Democratic caucus for the bill. The bill passed the Senate despite an 11th-hour debate over a provision that will slow the growth of pension benefits to military retirees under the age of 62. This provision drew strong opposition from veterans and their supporters.
Republicans would have preferred that the budget bill curb spending to a much greater extent. On the other hand, Democrats were disappointed that the bill not renew expanded unemployment benefits that are due to expire before the year’s end.
The chief negotiators, Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Patty Murray (D-WA) were working with a short list of limited options to raise money for the government to spend. As a result, government spending will still go up and there will be increased fees on airline passengers and cuts in spending for federal pension programs. (See Budget Agreement To Increase Pension Contributions for New Employees)
The result was a budget agreement that will increase spending over the next two years by $62 billion over current law. The bill will also ease the across-the-board cuts (the sequester) due to take effect in mid-January.
The new spending will be offset by measures cutting the deficit by $85 billion over the next ten years, for a net reduction in the deficit of $23 billion over ten years.
The bill will now go to President Obama for his signature.
The budget agreement will likely help in averting another potential government shutdown although that possibility is not completely eliminated. In order to avoid a scenario like the shutdown last October, Congress and the President must sign into law a government funding bill by January 15th.
The new budget agreement legislation sets overall discretionary spending levels at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year and $1.014 trillion in fiscal 2015. There will presumably be an omnibus spending bill discussed and up for a vote prior to January 15, 2014. Critics of the new budget agreement unlikely to change their minds and vote against the spending bill implementing that deal but there could be a number of arguments to potentially derail the final budget.