White House, congressional leaders near 2-year deal

Source: Daniel Bush, Hannah Northey and Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The White House and congressional leaders last night closed in on a broad, two-year budget deal that would increase domestic spending and raise the debt limit through March 2017.

The deal would lift budget caps and boost defense and non-defense spending for fiscal 2016 and 2017, ending years of budget wars between the Obama administration and GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate, and would hand outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a victory as he prepares to leave Congress later this week.

The details of the deal were posted around midnight last night by House Republicans.

The agreement would boost defense and non-defense spending by $80 billion over the two-year span and cut long-term spending on Social Security and Medicare — changes Republicans have fought for as part of any major fiscal agreement. It would rely on sales from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and changes to the federal crop insurance program, among other measures, to boost revenue.

The budget deal would raise the debt ceiling before the Nov. 3 deadline, avoiding a first-ever debt default, and make it easier to reach a spending agreement before the federal government runs out of money on Dec. 11, lawmakers said.

“It gives us two years, a number we can appropriate to both years, [and] it offsets a lot of the spending with mandatory entitlement cuts, which I’ve been advocating for years,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday.

The budget deal will also likely affect the way future spending bills are brought to the floor. Rogers said the bill could contain a provision that would allow a simple majority — as opposed to 60 votes — to bring appropriations bills to the Senate floor.

The rule change “would be a great breakthrough for us,” Rogers said.

Rogers last night said he thought the bill would likely address a number of controversial policy riders — but none was immediately apparent in the text of the bill released overnight. When asked about specific provisions affecting labor and U.S. EPA rules or offsets involving the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Rogers said he’d leave that to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McConnell and senators on both sides of the aisle said yesterday that they were still working out the bill’s details.

“There are some loose ends to tie up,” Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said last night. “I don’t know about the riders,” Mikulski added. “I’m focused on the money right now.”

The agreement, if is passes Congress, would be the first major budget deal since Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reached a spending plan in 2011, when they were chairmen of their respective chambers’ budget panels. Since then, the White House and GOP lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have butted heads over lifting the sequester-level spending caps.

Last week, President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act because it would have boosted defense spending (E&E Daily, Oct. 23). Obama has insisted that any additional defense spending be accompanied by an increase in non-defense spending.

Congress will have to act quickly in order to pass the bill before the House holds its speaker’s election Thursday. Boehner, who announced last month that he would retire on Oct. 30, has said he wants to “clean the barn” and leave his successor a clean slate before ending his decadeslong congressional career.

“I think John intended to get the budget and debt ceiling done before he left,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said, adding that Boehner is now “in a much better position to put together what was going to be a tough vote for a lot of Republicans.”

A budget deal would also benefit Ryan, who is set to replace Boehner as speaker after a lengthy leadership scramble that dominated the House this month. The Ways and Means Committee chairman has enough votes to secure the GOP speaker nomination tomorrow and win the floor vote Thursday.

Reaction was mixed among rank-and-file House Republicans after GOP leaders presented the broad outlines of the deal to the caucus in a closed-door meeting last night. It remains unclear how many Republicans will ultimately vote for the bill, which will need significant Democratic support to pass the House and will face some opposition from conservative members of the Senate.

“I certainly hope [Boehner] gets a majority vote out of his conference. He deserves that, and I think Paul Ryan needs that coming in,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, blasted the deal. “It didn’t go through normal order; it’s not resulting in anything good,” said Brat, adding that he would vote against the measure. “The budget process failed.”

But other members of the conservative group — which pressured Boehner to step down and declined to give Ryan its full endorsement for speaker last week — sounded more optimistic.

“Anytime that you have longer-term certainty [in the budget], that’s good for the business community and working families,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters. But “it really depends on the details and how you accomplish that.”