Senate passes budget bill and sends it to Obama
Senate passes budget bill and sends it to Obama – The Boston Globe
>by: David M. Herszenhorn |New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a crucial bipartisan budget agreement early Friday that would avert a government default and end nearly five years of pitched battles between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration over fiscal policy.
The measure, which was approved 64-35, now goes to the White House, where President Obama has said he will sign it.
“This agreement is a reminder that Washington can still choose to help, rather than hinder, America’s progress,” Obama said in a statement.
The Senate vote, held in the dead of night, was perhaps a fitting cap on the clashes between Republicans and the White House, which many warned had put the United States on the edge of economic calamity and, in 2013, forced a 16-day shutdown of the federal government.
Unlike the 2013 fight, in which Republicans ultimately surrendered and conceded defeat in trying to force a repeal of Obama’s health care law, this week’s budget accord was largely a draw.
The deal would increase spending by $80 billion over two years and raise the federal debt ceiling, averting a default that the Treasury had warned would happen early next week. It was approved in the House on Wednesday with the overwhelming support of Democrats, but with less than one-third of Republicans backing it.
The measure calls for corresponding budget cuts to avoid increasing the deficit, including reductions in Medicare payments to doctors and other health-care providers.
It also envisions savings from tighter eligibility requirements and other changes to a Social Security disability program.
Modest in scope, especially in the context of the nearly $4 trillion annual budget, the accord represents a significant breakthrough.
While Congress must still adopt spending bills for the next two years, the bill would substantially reduce the risk of a government shutdown by setting spending targets for two years and allowing Congress to return to its regular appropriations process.
It also will allow the newly installed House speaker, Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, a clean start in which he can focus on mending deep divisions among House Republicans.
Senate leaders in each party had expressed support for the measure.
“This agreement isn’t perfect,” the majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a floor speech.
“I share some concerns other colleagues have raised. But here’s the bottom line: This is a fully offset agreement that rejects tax hikes, secures long-term savings through entitlement reforms, and provides increased support for our military — all this at a time when we confront threats in multiple theaters.”
McConnell added, “I hope senators will join me in voting for it.”
But some of his fellow Republican senators, including two presidential candidates — Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas — were fiercely opposed.
The rare overnight voting, beginning with a 1 a.m. procedural measure and ending with final passage shortly after 3 a.m., was a consequence of the bitter disagreement among Republicans.
The critics said that many of the cuts were gimmicks and that the package overall would add to the nation’s debt.
They also said that it would breach spending-cap agreements they considered a much-needed step toward responsible cost controls. Democrats have long called for lifting the caps, which they say have put a drag on the economy and blocked needed investments in infrastructure and other programs.
“Ultimately, there was something passed called sequestration, which put caps on both military and domestic spending, and it did slow down the rate of growth of government for a little while,” Paul said in a speech. “This is the problem with Congress. Congress will occasionally do something in the right direction and then they take one step forward and two steps back.”
Senator James P. Lankford, Republican from Oklahoma, said people in his state did not buy arguments in favor of the budget accord.
“It was announced by the White House today that this is a great job-creating achievement,” he said, “but all they see is more spending and no change in the status quo.”
Lankford criticized two of the spending cuts as illusions.
One, he said, would slightly move up the due date of pension insurance premiums to the federal government. That would allow the money to be captured within the 10-year window used for budget-scoring purposes.
“Yes, it adds $2.3 billion into the 10-year window,” he said. “It’s actually zero savings. It’s not real. They moved a payment a month and said it’s a pay-for. It’s not a pay-for.”