Marvel of marvels, congressional leaders reached agreement (amazing thing No. 1) on a compromise budget package ahead of schedule (amazing thing No. 2). Here's your 30-second, sound-smart-at-the-holiday-party guide to what's in it — and to what happens next.
Why is the budget deal coming out now?
One of the agreements that ended the October government shutdown was that the Republican House (led by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) and Democratic Senate (led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray) would go into a conference committee to find middle ground between the parties' budget plans. They had a deadline of this Friday, and met it.
So what's in the agreement?
The main point is that sequestration — the mandatory spending cuts that went into effect when Congress couldn't reach a compromise earlier this year — gets scaled back somewhat, but not entirely. In total, it's an $85 billion adjustment to what would otherwise be in the budget, with about $1 trillion in spending for 2014 and 2015. The reduction in sequestration is split between defense and non-defense spending about evenly. [SEE THE NUMBERS]
In order to offset the increased spending, the deal agrees to raise more money by both increasing fees, including ones collected on airline tickets, and increasing the amount that federal employees (non-military and military alike) contribute to their pensions. [SEE THE NUMBERS]
What isn't in the agreement?
Things to annoy members of both parties!
Republicans are frustrated that the deal doesn't touch spending on social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security. Democrats are annoyed (as Murray noted last night) that there are no cuts to corporate tax loopholes, and — far more importantly — that unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed wasn't extended. [MORE ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT]
So what's next?
The House and Senate have to vote on the deal, and President Obama has to sign it. It seems likely to pass, but members of both parties have already expressed concern over the provisions. This isn't the deal that either side wanted to see (as befits any compromise), but it's also more limited in scope than many would have liked. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, there's "something for everyone to dislike."
Sen. Tom Coburn reflected one point of Republican opposition, telling Politico that the deal was "the best Paul could get, but it’s not anything I can support" — because it doesn't address spending in the major safety net programs. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, from the party's far-right flank, spoke out against the deal on Twitter, because it's "sending more money to Washington with these so called fees aka TAXES."
Democrats will certainly be frustrated by that lack of an extension to unemployment insurance; several spoke out against a deal that didn't include an extension last week. But it will also be hard for Democrats to swallow cementing sequestration cuts into place over the long term. As the Post put it, "Democrats flatly got beat on sequestration."
For what it's worth, even the little bit of additional government spending is being hailed by the financial industry.
Does this herald a new era of Congressional bipartisanship and problem-solving?
Ha ha, well, probably not.
At the Post, political scientist Sarah Binder writes that she's skeptical. The deal restores "only a sliver of budgetary normalcy." Will the deal "portend additional bipartisan deals around the corner? I’m doubtful," she writes. In part because she has studied Congress for more than five minutes.