Days from stepping down as Speaker of the House, John Boehner and other House Republican leaders put forth what will likely be Boehner’s last deal, a tentative budget agreement released just before midnight on Monday. Boehner and others have worked with President Obama over the last week to create a bipartisan proposal that meets the needs of both parties. The agreement still needs approval from Congress to avoid a potentially crippling default and government shutdown.
The budget deal would slightly increase spending by $80 billion over next two years, a less than two percent increase on a federal budget that is closing in on $4 trillion in annual government spending. Boehner and the White House agreed to increase military and domestic spending, as well as a $32 billion increase for an emergency war fund that is to be made exempt from federal budget caps. It would also suspend the federal borrowing limit, permitting the Treasury Department to borrow what it needs through March of 2017. The Treasury warned earlier this month that we would default on our debt if the borrowing limit wasn’t increased by Nov. 3.
The $80 billion increases are balanced out by spending cuts on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits. The cuts to Medicare come as reduced Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. A crucial objective of Boehner’s in negotiating the deal was to offset spending increases with cuts, savings, and revenues of various government programs. This includes an agreement to sell oil from our strategic reserves.
Boehner will be rallying to gain support for the bill during his final hours in the Capitol, but it is uncertain how House Republicans will respond during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, just one day before the House is set to vote on the measure. For Boehner, it will likely be a race to approve this budget before either one party unites in opposition, or Paul Ryan steps in as the new Speaker. Many expect Ryan to assume that role by the end of the week.
Both sides concede on core issues in this budget, but it is unclear if Congress can approve the measure without questioning its contents. Despite the healthy tradeoffs, some Republicans have already shown pushback to the deal, calling the agreement another one of Boehner’s expensive two-year compromises that no one but leadership fully understands. Republicans have grown vexed with Boehner’s eagerness to capitulate on what conservatives view as non-negotiable issues during his five-year tenure as Speaker.
Democrats won’t be fond of increased military spending and cuts to Medicare and Social Security, but President Obama’s influence in drafting the bill will likely garner Democratic support. It would also be remiss of Democrats to denounce the agreement so close to the deadline, as they habitually deem Republicans culpable when government shutdown approaches. An opposition now would undermine their supposed credibility as the party of solutions.
For Republicans, there is plenty to grumble about with this budget. But, given the timing and situation of these events, it is in their best interest to pass this budget deal.
Sadly, it is a status-quo budget that further increases the debt ceiling and doesn’t fully address the issue of wasteful government spending. Suspending the debt ceiling through 2017 could prove harmful to federal deficits by the end of Obama’s presidency. While Boehner has been able to reach bipartisan agreements, he has failed in containing the debt crisis by increasing or suspending the debt ceiling six times as Speaker. Additionally, an $80 billion spending increase is a blow to Republicans who were elected overwhelmingly in 2014 to reduce the scope of the federal government.
However, with Boehner’s departure imminent, it is imperative that Republicans resolve this issue before Ryan is ushered in as Boehner’s replacement. Ryan doesn’t need any added pressure when he takes over, and fumbling on an issue like this early in his term could leave the Republican Party resonating with doubts on their decision to appoint him. But with this ordeal behind them, Ryan can take over as Speaker with a clean slate and begin to tactically push the Republican agenda that Boehner failed to fulfill.