It's 'Not Great,' But Budget Deal Is Expected To Pass In The House

Dec 12, 2013
Originally published on December 12, 2013 5:44 pm

The House is expected to vote Thursday on the bipartisan deal that would set spending levels for the next two years, replace many of the indiscriminate "sequester" budget cuts and, in theory at least, take off the table one of the most partisan of the many partisan issues that have contributed to the gridlock in Washington.

NPR's Tamara Keith tells our Newscast desk that passage is expected but not certain. She adds that:

"Many have described the deal as not great, or not enough, but the best a Democratic senator [Patty Murray of Washington] and Republican congressman [Paul Ryan of Wisconsin] could hope to agree to in this divided Congress.

"The House GOP leadership is pushing hard for their members to support it. The Tea Party faction is largely opposed because they consider the fees it raises to be taxes and because there aren't enough immediate spending cuts.

"Still, many Republicans say they will vote yes. On the other side of the aisle, many Democrats are upset that the package doesn't extend jobless benefits for the unemployed. Democratic leaders in the House aren't telling their members how to vote, and some say they may vote no unless aid for the long-term unemployed is included."

Politico takes a look at how the deal has led to an interesting switch in roles among Republicans:

"For much of the past year, it's been the Senate GOP cutting bipartisan deals, whether it's been on immigration or to keep the government funded, only to see the House Republicans balk. House Republicans have long been critical of their Senate colleagues, arguing they compromise too often and are worried only about face-saving political votes.

"But on Wednesday, Republican senators up and down the line were balking. ...

"The reasons Senate Republicans oppose the deal are plentiful, but, at the most basic level, they have the luxury of nearly uniform opposition because they are in the minority.

"They know this deal will pass, since a handful of Senate GOP lawmakers favor it — it will easily clear the 60-vote threshold to beat a filibuster. So 'no' becomes the default position for many of them. Furthermore, Senate Republicans didn't buy in to the deal as their leadership was kept out of the loop during the talks."

The Hill picks up on that angle as well, examining the "rare split" between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who supports the deal, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who does not.

According to USA Today, "the Senate is expected to vote on the package next week, and President Obama said Tuesday that he will sign it."

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. Ryan Sees 'Some Semblance Of Bipartisanship'

Democrats have complained that the budget deal does not extend long-term jobless benefits for more than a million workers.

"This agreement wasn't about that," Rep. Paul Ryan tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "This agreement was [about] how to prevent a government shutdown and how to pay the bills."

Their conversation just took place; it'll air later today on All Things Considered.

Ryan also said that while it's not a substitute for a GOP-sponsored budget, the deal will allow Congress to "get some semblance of bipartisanship, get this government working at just a minimum, basic functioning level."

On criticism from fellow Republicans such as Matt Salmon of Arizona that the deal doesn't reform Medicare and Social Security programs, Ryan said:

"What Patty Murray and I decided was, if we require the other person to violate a core principle, then we're going to get nowhere and we'll just keep yelling at each other.

"So what we decided to do was look for areas of common ground, see where that lies, and put an agreement around that. And that's what this reflects.

"You know, the fact of the matter is, you don't get everything you want in a divided government."

Responding to the argument that Ryan's compromise discards Republicans' bargaining leverage by easing parts of the sequester, Ryan said, "I disagree with that, because 92 percent of the sequester remains intact."

He added, "We have lots of Republicans who are very worried about another round of cuts to the military, because all of the sequester cuts going forward were going to hit only the military."

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And I spoke earlier with Congressman Paul Ryan. He's chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican architect of this budget deal. Congressman Paul Ryan, thank you for joining us.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So let's talk about some of the criticisms of the deal. For Democrats, it's been about not extending long term jobless benefits and it's going to apply to more than a million workers. And that means just after Christmas, checks will stop. Why not extend those jobless benefits and do you expect to do it in a separate bill?

RYAN: Well, this agreement wasn't about that. This agreement was how to prevent a government shutdown and how to pay the bills, how to offset some money giving back to the sequester with savings in other areas. So there are a lot of other issues that people would love to addressed. This was a budget agreement. It wasn't seeking to address these other issues, but the impasse we have on the budget.

CORNISH: So let's talk a little bit more about how your caucus is reacting to this. We've had members who say that they oppose this bill because they argue it actually raises spending levels over the next few years. I want to play you Republican Matt Salmon of Arizona.

REPRESENTATIVE MATT SALMON: The saddest thing of all, really, is not that the cuts aren't significant enough. It's that we did virtually nothing on Social Security and Medicare.

CORNISH: Congressman Ryan, your response to that.

RYAN: Well, Matt's a close friend. He knows that I am a champion of Medicare and Social Security reform. That is, after all, what our Republican budget proposes to do. But this is divided government and our friends on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats, did not want to have those reforms in there. What Patty Murray and I decided was if we require the other person to violate a core principle, then we're going to get nowhere and we'll just keep yelling at each other.

So instead, what we decided to do was look for areas of common ground and put an agreement around that and that's what this reflects. So, you know, the fact of the matter is you don't get everything you want in divided government. This is not a substitute for our budget. It doesn't replace our budget because our budget is far more ambitious. It actually balances the budget and pays off the debt and reforms our entitlement programs so they don't go bankrupt.

This agreement is designed to prevent us from shutting down the government in January and again in October, get this government working at just a minimum basic functioning level and that's why we came up with $85 billion in savings from what we call mandatory spending. That's the spending that's on autopilot that Congress doesn't oversee on an annual basis.

And that $85 billion in savings pays for $63 billion of sequester relief evenly split between defense and domestic programs.

CORNISH: And we should say that the net difference, the actual savings over time is going to be $23 billion.

RYAN: That's right. So we think that's a good thing for fiscal conservatism because what we're doing is we're actually lowering the deficit if we did nothing. So passing this we think is a step in the right direction because it reduces the deficit.

CORNISH: The argument is that those savings will be realized a decade from now, right, a very vulnerable decade when anything can happen and some argue will those savings ever be realized, whereas the spending happens pretty much right now.

RYAN: That's right so that's the nature of the way these budgets work, which is immediately we're giving relief for domestic spending like basic health research at NIH or defense spending like getting troop readiness up and running. That money spends very quickly. But these aren't back-loaded spending cuts in that the spending cuts occur late in the decade.

The law changes now. Federal employees, new federal employees will have to contribute more to their pensions right now. It's that those savings start accumulating over time.

CORNISH: When people talk about the conservative critics of this deal, they're talking about pretty influential conservative groups, right, Heritage Action, Club For Growth. And House Speaker John Boehner responded to the opposition saying that they're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. Do you feel that way?

RYAN: Well, look, John was pretty upset at the moment. The reason he was upset, and I agree with the reason, was they came out in opposition of this agreement before we even reached an agreement. So these are groups I know very well. A lot of them are good friends and supporters of mine. I just disagree with them. I think this is a step in the right direction.

I think, as conservatives, you know, if you're a Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke reading conservative, you deal with the world as it is, not as what you want it to be. And the world as it is is we're facing possibly two government shutdowns, the military is getting cut much more deeply and a lot of Republicans are worried about that and the world that it is is the autopilot mandatory spending is the driver of our debt.

And if we can place our focus and our emphasis and our attention there, then that's where we ought to be focusing on. So I think this is a step in the right direction. What was frustrating was these groups came out against the budget agreement before we even reached a budget agreement, let alone before they knew what was in it.

CORNISH: But these are the same critics who essentially said that House Republicans needed to stand their ground, cutting spending and in these high stakes shutdown situations. I mean, was there a sense that the GOP caucus is essentially locked in to this kind of perpetual high stakes shut down strategy?

RYAN: Well, see that's the point I'm making. I don't think we should lurch from crisis to crisis. I don't think that's good and so this averts that.

CORNISH: But was it because of the influence of outside groups?

RYAN: Well, if we pass this, that'll show you that we are making a statement that we don't want to lurch from crisis to crisis. I, for one, think it's important to try and make this divided government work. Look, I am not getting everything I want in this budget, far from it. But I'm not violating a principle. I'm advancing my principles albeit a modest step in the right direction. And what I'm also achieving is no shutdowns and some stability.

I think that's what people are looking for in this country, just that Washington is not going to blow up every couple of months, that we're not going to have this crisis every couple of months. We think that's good for our political system and good for just the stability in the economy.

CORNISH: Congressman Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee chair, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RYAN: Thanks, Audie. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.