That Congress’ budget chairs – Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray – were able to reach a budget agreement at all is a minor miracle. There was ample reason to believe the negotiations were a fool’s errand and that failure was an inevitability. The assumptions, however, were wrong, and the two leaders last night unveiled their deal to fund the government for the next two years.
Broadly speaking, there are two overarching questions to consider: is the budget agreement any good and can it pass Congress. Neither is easy to answer.
On the former, Americans can take at least some solace in the fact that the deal undoes parts of the deliberately harmful sequestration policy. As my MSNBC colleague Suzy Khimm explained:
The $85 billion deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray sets overall discretionary spending levels at $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015, undoing about $63 billion of the automatic cuts for the next two years. Without changing the law, sequestration’s cuts will continue to get deeper, lowering discretionary spending to $967 billion in 2014. […]The spending increases to undo sequestration will be offset by higher government fees, and federal and military pension cuts. The offsets are also big enough to reduce the deficit by an additional $20 to $23 billion. But about two-thirds of sequestration for 2014 and 2015 would stay in place.
For many congressional Democrats, this is hardly encouraging. The agreement leaves Social Security and Medicare largely untouched, but it doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, it leaves much of the ridiculous sequester in place, and the budget continues to needlessly focus on deficit reduction, without raising a penny in new taxes on the wealthy. That said, Dems have maintained low expectations all along, realizing that any budget deal reached with Paul Ryan would be disappointing.
“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” President Obama said in a statement. “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.”
But while progressives are underwhelmed and dissatisfied with the agreement, conservatives went straight for outrage. Far-right groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity all condemned the deal – before it had even been announced. The Republicans’ activist base believe the spending levels are too high – as they see it, less public investment is necessarily worthwhile, even if it’s a drag on the economy – and the deal doesn’t undermine social-insurance programs at all.
A few dozen House Republicans are already rebelling, and a variety of Republican Tea Party candidates are turning this into a litmus-test issue – to support the bipartisan budget deal, which the left has little reason to like, is to prove one’s self insufficiently right-wing.
Indeed, even Ryan himself is drawing the ire of conservatives in a way he’s never done before.
So what happens now? The plan is for House Republican leaders to try to get the bill passed before the end of this week, and the timing is important – the chamber leaves for the year on Friday and won’t return until January. Current government funding runs out on Jan. 15, at which point the government would shut down (again).
If House GOP lawmakers revolt (again), the deal may be able to pass with Democratic votes, but let’s not forget that House Dems aren’t exactly crazy about this agreement, either.
Expect the lobbying over the next 48 hours to get pretty intense.