fresh voices from the front lines of change







So it looks like Capitol Hill may get to have a holiday this year:

The deal, which was negotiated over the past few weeks by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would set spending for the next fiscal year at $1.012 trillion and increase it to $1.014 trillion the year after that. Should their budget framework actually pass through Congress, it would represent an increase in federal spending by $45 billion in one year and $63 billion over the course of two years.

To pay for those increases, Murray and Ryan agreed to hike airline travel fees and require both federal workers and military personnel to contribute a greater portion of funds to their pensions, among other provisions.

The deal does not include an agreement to raise the nation's debt limit, which the Treasury has forecast will be hit between March and June.

I'll be very surprised if the military hawks don't have a meltdown over retiree pensions, but maybe they've worked it out. (Obviously, federal workers are just out of luck.)

No unemployment insurance extension which is really too bad. And despite what everyone's saying on TV about sequestration being lifted hi-hip hoorah, the fact is that they had to rob Peter to pay Paul. Paul Ryan that is:

The deal is very close to the halfway compromise Murray dangled at the start of the talks, coming in between the Senate's budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House's $967 billion. But to get Ryan to agree to undo some of the draconian, across-the-board sequestration cuts, Murray apparently had to find money elsewhere. The budget framework produces savings and non-tax revenue totaling $85 billion, $20 billion to $23 billion of which would be devoted to deficit reduction.

"As a conservative I think this is a step in the right direction," Ryan said. "What am I getting out of this? I'm getting more deficit reduction."

The $63 billion in sequestration relief would be split 50/50 between defense programs, which were set to take a greater hit in the next year, and domestic programs. Murray and Ryan's framework only eliminates a small portion of the roughly $180 billion in sequestration cuts set for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, but Congress itself would be granted greater power to administer the remainder of the cuts...

"While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings," Boehner said in a statement.

Some conservative groups are kvetching about shifting the numbers around but Ryan seems very confident they won't raise a fuss.

Murray meanwhile is offering federal workers the most fatuous explanation ever: yes you've already given up your raises and didn't get paid for the furloughs and the shutdown, but if you don't agree to give up some of your pensions on top of all that our previous round of budgetary malpractice will remain in effect and it's even worse. See, we're looking out for you.

It's a tiny deal, which is always better than a big deal when you're dealing with these Republicans. But large spending cuts remain the bipartisan objective of the budget as far as the eye can see. At least they've taken their hands off the so-called entitlements for the time being.

Now it has to pass congress. And then we have the debt ceiling. Merry Christmas.

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