Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announce a bipartisan budget deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol. (T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Two senior US lawmakers have struck a deal on a budget blueprint that would restore to the Pentagon’s annual budget more than $30 billion over the next two years set to meet sequestration’s meat ax.
The bipartisan budget resolution is a major victory for congressional defense hawks, who lobbied for years against sequestration — and made an impression with the special committee’s primary negotiators.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced a plan Tuesday evening that would ease pending across-the-board cuts while shrinking the federal deficit more than existing law.
The compromise budget resolution, if adopted by both chambers, would provide $63 billion in sequestration relief in 2014 and 2015, which would be split evenly among defense and non-defense discretionary accounts.
The 2014 relief would total $45 billion, meaning the Defense Department would get back about $22.5 billion. In 2015, the relief amount would be around $18 billion total, and $9 billion for the Pentagon.
Ryan acknowledged House GOP defense hawks “were very concerned” about more sequester cuts, especially since the Pentagon would have taken most of the next round of across-the-board cuts. Ryan told reporters that those members let their worries be heard as he and Murray crafted their much-anticipated spending blueprint.
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), said in a statement that “while much more work remains to reduce our long-term deficits, today’s announcement — and the productive process of the last few weeks — signifies a step in the right direction.”
“Let’s hope that the government shutdown and threaten default earlier this year was rock bottom for our budgetary dysfunction,” Grumet said. “The fact that the budget committee chairs have crafted a package that includes policy priorities from both houses and both parties is as important as any individual component of the deal.”
Some GOP Might Resist Plan
Amid an environment on Capitol Hill that is toxically partisan and besieged by dysfunction, Ryan said he and Murray “have been talking all year,” adding: “That has paid off.”
There are rumblings on Capitol Hill that conservative House GOP members — and some in the Senate — might oppose the plan because it addresses the debt-paring sequester cuts they cherish in the midst of a re-election cycle for many.
To that end, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., earlier in the day told reporters they want to keep the sequester cuts in place.
“The sequester has done what it was supposed to,” McConnell said, noting it has led to sizable deficit reduction. Blunt echoed his fellow-GOP leadership members’ sentiment.
But Ryan cast the bill as a victory for conservatives, saying it proposes almost $25 billion more in deficit reduction than is called for under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which created sequestration.
“As a conservative ... I get more deficit reduction than if we did nothing,” Ryan said, adding the plan upholds GOP principles because it does not propose tax hikes.
He said he expects “great support” from the House GOP caucus — a seeming challenge to his conservative colleagues. Ryan said House Republican leaders “are in support of this.”
“The sequester relief is fully offset by savings elsewhere in the budget,” Ryan’s House Budget Committee said in a statement. “The agreement includes dozens of specific deficit-reduction provisions, with mandatory savings and non-tax revenue totaling approximately $85 billion. The agreement would reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion.”
The deal targets the “auto-pilot side” of the federal budget while cutting less from the defense side, Ryan said.
“That, to me, is a good deal,” the potential 2016 presidential hopeful said.
A Return to 'Regular Order'?
The duo seemed to acknowledge final passage is far from certain — as analysts have said for weeks.
“I’m hopeful we can get this through the House and the Senate,” Murray told reporters, adding passage would help the congressional budget process “stop lurching from crisis to crisis.”
There is hope on Capitol Hill that the deal will allow, at least for two years, a return to “regular order,” meaning the passage in both chambers of annual spending bills.
“Not only does this deal hold the line on spending, it actually puts a dent in our annual deficit — a significant accomplishment. Plus, it opens the door for future progress on the problem of runaway entitlements, and paves the way toward budget and economic stability for the next two years,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement.
“In addition, this budget conference agreement will now allow bicameral negotiations on appropriations bills to begin,” Rogers said. “These appropriations bills will provide the discretionary funding needed to keep the government operating — thus avoiding another potential government shutdown and more piecemeal, stopgap spending measures.”
With the House slated to adjourn Friday morning, Ryan said the lower chamber is set to take up the measure “later this week.” The Senate would then address it, likely next week.
If it is approved, Rogers said House and Senate negotiators will begin work on a final legislative “package” that would provide federal government-wide spending for the remainder of fiscal 2014. Congress faces a Jan. 15 deadline for doing so, or the government would again shut down.
“We have a huge challenge ahead of us — we must craft legislation funding the entirety of the federal government in just one month,” Rogers said. “However, I know my colleagues on the House and Senate appropriations committees are up to the task, and I’m optimistic that we can reach a mutually acceptable deal in a timely fashion.”