US House approves budget compromise, Senate next

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Friday, December 13, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The Democrat-controlled Senate was expected to approve a bipartisan budget agreement next week, sealing a spending deal that would prevent a repeat of last month's damaging government shutdown and restore money for the US military and domestic agencies that had been slashed in automatic cuts.

The House of Representatives voted to pass the budget Thursday — by a lopsided 332-94 margin — after a surprising about-face by Speaker John Boehner, who blasted the tea party wing of his Republican caucus and outside conservative groups for leading members astray and hurting the party by having forced the government shutdown two months ago. Until he came out in support of the new deal, Boehner had largely bowed pressure from the hard right on virtually ever legislative question. Republican approval among voters, polls showed, has plummeted.

When signed into law by President Barack Obama, which is expected, the spending plan eases a brutal philosophical fight over government funding that has gripped the nation since Republicans retook control of the House in 2010, giving them sufficient power to bring the legislative process to a grinding halt.

While House Democrats were upset the budget did not include an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, they voted overwhelming for the plan after Senate Democrats promised to force a vote on extending unemployment benefits when the chamber reconvenes next year. They hope that political pressure after 1.3 million people lose their benefits on Dec. 28 will force Republican leaders to extend aid averaging less than $300 a week to people who've been out of work longer than six months.

The vote in the House was a big win for Boehner, who earlier in the day criticized conservative interest groups that routinely attack Republicans for supporting legislation they deem not conservative enough.

The measure would bring a temporary cease-fire to the budget wars that have gridlocked Washington for much of the three years since Republicans reclaimed control of the House. It leaves in place the bulk of $1 trillion or so in automatic cuts slamming the Pentagon, domestic agencies and Medicare providers through 2021 but eases an especially harsh set of cuts for 2014 and 2015.

Nobody is claiming the pact worked out between high-profile Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee last year, and Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is perfect. It eases $63 billion in scheduled spending cuts over the next two years and replaces them with longer-term savings measured over 10 years, many of which don't accumulate until 2022-2023. Deficits would increase by $23.2 billion in 2014 and by $18.2 billion the year after that.

But the deal would put a dysfunctional Washington on track to prevent unappealingly tough cuts to military readiness and weapons, as well as continued cuts to programs cherished by Democrats and Republicans alike, including health research, school aid, FBI salaries and border security. The cuts would be replaced with money from, among other things, higher airline security fees, curbs on the pension benefits of new federal workers or working-age military retirees, and premium increases on companies whose pension plans are insured by the federal government.

The Ryan-Murray pact uses a combination of mostly low-profile cuts and new fee revenues, much of which won't occur until after the turn of the next decade, to ease cuts mandated by the inability of official Washington to follow up a 2011 budget pact with additional deficit cuts.

Those cuts were intended to be so fearsome that they would force the capital's warring factions to make budget peace. Instead, after the first-year impact of so-called sequestration wasn't as bad as advertised, many Republicans have come to embrace them. The Ryan-Murray deal recognizes that the second year of the automatic cuts would be worse than the first, especially for the Pentagon, and seeks to ease their pain. (Sunnex)

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