Who Won and Who Lost in the Budget Deal?
The fact that Republicans in both chambers agreed on a blueprint is an accomplishment. But some members didn't get what they wanted.
Sen. Bob Corker, the final obstacle to a bicameral budget deal, ended his blockade of the legislation Wednesday, signing onto the document that could see a vote in the House as early as this week.
Congressional Republicans will unveiled the deal Wednesday, fulfilling a promise they made to voters in the last election and allowing appropriators to begin their work to keep the government funded later this year.
Corker, and others, had objected to what they termed savings "gimmicks" in the budget that help to offset the cost of keeping the government's doors open. But, Corker said in a statement Wednesday, the deal represents "some progress," noting that "it has been a long time since the Congress has completed this basic part of governing."
The spending plan represents a compromise that many believed would be difficult—if not impossible—to accomplish. The conference report will need just a simple majority in each chamber, making it very likely to pass both as soon as this week.
But, as in any compromise deal, some members and groups came out ahead of others:
The new Republican majority. Even just a few months ago, it looked unlikely that this Congress could pass a budget resolution. Defense hawks and fiscal conservatives were at an impasse over Pentagon spending. But a clever workaround (that even supportive hawks have called a "gimmick") allowed both chambers to raise defense spending by nearly $100 billion through the use of Overseas Contingency Operations accounts. The deal does little to change actual defense-spending figures, unless enacted into an actual law, but the compromise allows the GOP-controlled Congress to pass a real budget, setting appropriators up to fund the government later this year. Given the brinkmanship characteristic of recent Congresses, that's no small accomplishment. And it marks a big win for House Speaker John Boehner, who kept his conference largely together, and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took control of the Senate this year with a promise to fund the government and return to regular order.
Rep. Tom Price and Sen. Mike Enzi. The two chambers' budget chairmen, each in his first year with the gavel, deserve the most credit for getting the deal done. Both chairmen wended their way through past policy proposals, drawing largely on the House budget resolutions passed by Rep. Paul Ryan in previous years, and found their way through a minefield of requests and objections from fellow Republican colleagues. Like their members, neither leader got everything he wanted, but getting a bicameral budget resolution in the books within their first four months of control is a major victory.
Defense hawks and the Pentagon. Although they fought hard, fiscal conservatives ultimately lost the battle with defense hawks over Pentagon spending. The conference budget includes an additional $96 billion in defense spending put into the OCO accounts, allowing the Pentagon to spend additional dollars without busting open the sequestration caps laid out in the Budget Control Act. The next fight for defense hawks will be passing an actual law that appropriates that money (the budget merely recommends doing so), but this is one battle down in the war ahead.
Rep. Tom Price. Yes, Price is a partial winner in this budget conference, as he got much of what he wanted in the deal—including the simple fact that there is one. But Price lost the fight over defense funding weeks ago. The longtime fiscal hawk and former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee had pushed against his leaders' requests to add additional defense spending without offsetting the cost. But Price was overruled by his leadership, who questioned his tactics and inserted the additional funding into a second version of Price's budget and passed that instead. (Still, Price praised passage of the budget overall, which largely stuck to his ideals.) Additionally, the Medicare restructuring that Price's predecessor, Ryan, had championed was stripped out of the conference deal, eliminating a major mandatory spending reform that was close to Price's and other conservatives' hearts. (The budget does include the reform plan as a policy of the House, but it was not agreed to by the full conference).
Fiscal conservatives. Not only does the budget include additional funding for defense that is not paid for, it also cuts less than the original House budget. It leaves in place a tricky piece of budget gimmickry known to Capitol Hill as "CHIMPS"—which essentially pays for spending this year by taking funding away from mandatory programs in the future, money that conservatives fear will be restored in a future budget anyway. And although it balances, the conference budget deal relies on savings from repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting mandatory spending, and reducing funding for other programs that President Obama will never sign into law. The savings, in other words, will never materialize.
Democrats. The minority party in both chambers was essentially left out in the cold, while their Republican counterparts debated and compromised over a joint budget resolution. This isn't unusual. The budget document is largely a partisan one, allowing the majority to express its policy views without needing to consult with the minority. In a divided Congress over the last few years, both parties got their say. But under GOP rule, Democrats were left out of the talks. As a result, the budget makes cuts to Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, and other programs beloved by Democrats. It also recommends repealing the Affordable Care Act. Every Democrat is expected to oppose the conference deal, but with just a simple majority needed to pass the budget through both chambers, they won't be needed.