Senate passes budget and debt deal, sends measure to Obama

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Budget agreement forces new look at oft-panned proposals.

Legislation sparing the country the specter of a catastrophic default and partial government shutdown is ready for President Barack Obama’s signature after the Senate passed it by a comfortable margin.The big budget deal that the White House is so happy about contains a couple of items that President Barack Obama or other administration officials were panning not too long ago. Obama called one feature in the deal an “irresponsible budget gimmick.” And Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz warily labeled another part “a very slippery slope” to be avoided.

Democrats teamed with Republican defense hawks to overcome opposition from conservatives including two GOP senators running for president – Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Faced with the prospect of getting more money for administration priorities and ending the threat of a government default, Obama decided to take the deal. Obama had negotiated the accord, passed by the House earlier this week, with congressional leaders who were intent on avoiding the brinkmanship and shutdown threats that have haunted the institution for the past several years.

For Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the agreement achieves his two chief goals: It helps avert a government shutdown and a default on the nation’s debt. And Senate Democrats successfully extracted spending increases for domestic programs, collecting dividends from a risky strategy cooked up this summer to block all appropriations bills to try and force Republicans into budget negotiations. “This agreement isn’t perfect,” McConnell said Thursday. “But here’s the bottom line. Former House Speaker John Boehner felt a particular urgency to get the legislation finished before leaving Congress, while many lawmakers wanted the issue resolved as they look ahead to presidential and congressional elections next year. Yet, the budget agreement racing through Congress adds money to that very same account — $16 billion this year, and a similar amount is likely the following year.

This is a fully-offset agreement that rejects tax hikes, secures long-term savings through entitlement reforms, and provides increased support for our military — at a time when we confront threats in multiple theaters.” But it was that sense of compromise that opened up McConnell to scathing attacks from fellow Republicans eager to distance themselves from the budget deal — not the least of whom was Texas Sen. The opposition was strong in the Senate, and Paul, a Kentucky Republican, left the presidential campaign trail and returned to the Capitol to criticize the deal as excessive Washington spending. Asked why it was no longer a “slush fund” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the previous effort “didn’t lift the (spending) caps in a way we felt was legitimate,” and didn’t provide relief to non-defense programs and defense programs alike. “When both sides get what they want from gimmicks, nobody complains about them,” said Ed Lorenzen, a longtime congressional aide now serving as senior adviser at the Committee for a Responsible Budget. Ted Cruz, who took to the Senate floor on Thursday night to eviscerate McConnell as the “most effective Democratic leader in modern times.” Just hours before the scheduled procedural vote on the budget, Cruz — who is running for the GOP presidential nomination — delivered a fiery anti-McConnell speech while dismissing the fiscal deal as a blank credit card from Republicans to Obama that is “encrusted in diamonds and glows in the dark.” “I’ve got to say, Leader McConnell has proven to be a very effective Democratic leader. In an hour-long speech that delayed the start of the final vote, Paul said Congress is “bad with money.” He railed against increases in defense dollars supported by Republicans and domestic programs supported by Democrats.

Why is a Republican majority leader fighting to accomplish the priorities of the Democratic minority.” Cruz’s remarks overshadowed a speech from yet another GOP presidential contender who chose not to make it so personal: Sen. Even so, the rule had enjoyed broad support in the caucus and on the Senate side, where 11 GOP senators have co-sponsored a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Cruz said the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate had given Obama a “diamond-encrusted, glow-in-the-dark Amex card” for government spending. The deal would also avert a looming shortfall in the Social Security disability trust fund that threatened to slash benefits, and head off an unprecedented increase in Medicare premiums for outpatient care for about 15 million beneficiaries.

Members of the Obama administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also panned selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to pay for other basic functions of government. The cuts include curbs on Medicare payments for outpatient services provided by certain hospitals and an extension of a 2-percentage-point cut in Medicare payments to doctors through the end of a 10-year budget. Obama had repeatedly said he would not negotiate budget concessions in exchange for increasing the debt limit, though he did agree to package the debt and budget provisions. “I am as frustrated by the refusal of this administration to even engage on this (debt limit) issue,” said Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “However, the president’s refusal to be reasonable and do his job when it comes to our debt is no excuse for Congress failing to do its job and prevent a default.” The budget relief would lift caps on the appropriated spending passed by Congress each year by $50 billion in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017, evenly divided between defense and domestic.

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