House and Senate negotiators reached a deal on the federal budget late Tuesday, one that leaves people who are out of work without an extension of their unemployment benefits, and that has right-wingers seething over the curtailment of about half the across-the-board sequester cuts to discretionary spending that were set to go into effect in January.
If there’s any consensus on the deal, it’s that there is nothing big about it—no new cuts to Social Security or Medicare, and no revision of the tax structure.
Tea Partiers and the Koch brothers are angry over the partial relief to be felt by government agencies from automatic spending cuts, and some Democrats are dismayed that sizable numbers of the long-term unemployed are to be left to fend for themselves in an economy that remains troubled.
Standing with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who chairs the House Committee on the Budget offered this bit of commentary: “You don’t always get what you want.”
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What the deal does accomplish is an end, for the time being, to the brinkmanship that has characterized the funding of the federal government through continuing resolutions, and which resulted in a government shutdown in October. It does not, however, raise the debt ceiling, meaning that another fight on whether or not the United States government will default on its debt is likely to ensue come March, if not before.
“I am very proud to stand here today with Chairman Ryan to say that we have broken through the partisanship and gridlock and reached a bipartisan budget compromise,” Murray said at a press conference announcing the deal.
The accord between Murray and Ryan, however, still needs to get through Congress, where some allied with the Tea Party are balking. It remains to be seen whether Ryan, once a darling of Americans for Prosperity, the influential Tea Party-allied group, will suffer the ire of its founders, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Other Republicans, however, may be placated by the fact that the deal’s reduction of the automatic cuts to discretionary spending under sequestration will go over well at the Pentagon, where anxiety over the round of cuts set to go into effect next month was throwing a wrench into operational planning. (Sequestration cuts to mandatory spending will remain in effect.)
The curtailment of those cuts will also benefit domestic programs such as Head Start.
Democrats had initially demanded that any budget deal include an extension of unemployment benefits for those who have exhausted their claims, but let go of their insistence for the sake of getting an agreement. Although Democrats have pledged to take up the matter in a separate piece of legislation, the Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery reports, “senior Democrats acknowledged that checks are likely to be cut off at the end of the month for more than a million people, potentially undercutting the strengthening economic recovery.”
The New York Times describes the overall deal this way:
Under the agreement, military and domestic spending for the current fiscal year that is under the annual discretion of Congress would rise to $1.012 trillion, from the $967 billion level it would hit if spending cuts known as sequestration were imposed next month. Spending would inch up to $1.014 trillion in the 2015 fiscal year.
The figure for this year is about halfway between the $1.058 trillion passed by the Senate this spring and the $967 billion approved by the House.
Even before the deal was announced, the Koch brothers and their allies were denouncing it, threatening Republicans who would dare to vote for the deal. Speaking with Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, Politico reported Phillips as saying, “We will absolutely hold them accountable if they break their word and go back on the sequester cuts.”
Not content to leave things in the hands of their own group, the Kochs also flexed their muscles in letters sent to members of Congress by Koch Industries, the privately owned conglomerate in which the brothers are principals. According to the Washington Post, the letters “call[ed] the deal ‘a dangerous retreat from the pledge to “live within our means”‘ made when the sequester was adopted in the summer of 2011.”
Reuters added that the letters “urged Congress in a letter to stick to the $967 billion spending cap set under the sequester,” reporting this quote:
“It is essential if our country is to achieve economic prosperity once again. It is also the right thing to do,” wrote Philip Ellender, the head of Koch Industries’ government and public affairs arm.
Americans for Prosperity can make life difficult for Republicans seeking re-election in 2014 by helping to launch primary challenges to sitting members of Congress. Other right-wing groups, including FreedomWorks and Heritage Action (now led by former Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC]) have also denounced the deal, according to Politico.
For a breakdown of the budget deal, which also includes higher fees on airline tickets, an increased pension contribution from some federal workers, and a decrease in cost-of-living increases to military pensions, the Washington Post offers a bulleted list.