House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who’ll wrap up his lengthy congressional career this week, has told reporters in recent days that he’s determined to “clean the barn up” before his successor takes his place. In practical terms, the Republican leader is referring to Congress’ lengthy to-do list – Boehner doesn’t want to leave lawmakers in an untenable position as he heads for the exits.
The outgoing Speaker apparently wasn’t kidding. To the surprise of many, he and other GOP leaders negotiated a budget deal with President Obama that’s rather extraordinary in its scope. NBC News reported overnight:
Congressional leaders have reached a breakthrough tentative budget deal with the White House that would set government funding levels for the next two years and extend the nation’s debt limit through 2017, avoiding routine talks of a government shutdown. […]If approved, the agreement would be a milestone after years of gridlock and annual threats of government shutdowns.
The full, 144-page bill was posted online late last night and is available here (pdf). The timing of the posting matters: its availability on Monday night will make it easier for House Republican leaders to set up a floor vote as early as tomorrow.
What immediately stands out in the deal is the negotiators’ ambition – this one package includes new federal spending levels through September 2017, a debt-ceiling increase through March 2017, $80 billion in sequestration relief that’s likely to help the economy and the Pentagon, and measures to help seniors facing Medicare Part B premium spikes.
If approved, the deal would likely eliminate the possibility of any self-imposed crises, cliffs, or hostage standoffs between now and early 2017, which sounds awfully appealing to almost everyone. Paul Ryan, who was not part of these negotiations, could begin his tenure as Speaker with a clean slate and no major deadlines looming overhead.
But a familiar question looms large: can it pass?
Democratic support is not necessarily a given. As is the case in any compromise, Republicans demanded concessions that are a key part of the package. In this case, increases in the sequester spending caps, the New York Times reported, “would be offset by cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, as well as savings or revenue from an array of other programs, including selling oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves. The Medicare savings would come from cuts in payments to doctors and other health care providers.”
As the day progresses, look for policymakers on the left to give these provisions a good, long look. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told Rachel on the show last night that he may very well balk at the deal.
Far-right lawmakers, meanwhile, in both the House and Senate quickly condemned the compromise, in large part because President Obama receives so much of what he wanted in the deal.
It’s far too soon to start laying odds, though if the deal falls apart, conditions in Congress are going to reach crisis levels again very, very soon. Watch this space.