WASHINGTON: Shedding gridlock, key members of Congress reached a modest budget agreement Tuesday to restore about $63 billion in automatic spending cuts from programs ranging from parks to the Pentagon and eliminate the threat of another partial government shutdown early next year.
The increases would be offset by a variety of spending reductions and higher fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, enough for a largely symbolic cut of more than $20 billion in the nation’s debt, now $17 trillion and growing.
Federal civilian and military workers, airline travelers and health-care providers who treat Medicare patients would bear much of the cost.
Significantly for Democrats, they failed in their bid to include an extension of benefits for workers unemployed longer than 26 weeks. The program expires on Dec. 28, when payments will be cut off for an estimated 1.3 million individuals.
Bipartisan approval is expected in both houses in the next several days, despite grumbling from liberals over the omission of the unemployment extension and even though tea party-aligned groups have already begun pushing Republican conservatives to oppose it.
The budget deal is one of a handful of measures left on Congress’ to-do list near the end of a year that produced a partial government shutdown, a flirtation with a first-ever federal default and gridlock on President Barack Obama’s call for gun control, an overhaul of immigration laws and more.
The White House quickly issued a statement from Obama praising the deal as a “good first step.”
He urged lawmakers of both parties to follow up and “actually pass a budget based on this agreement so I can sign it into law and our economy can continue growing and creating jobs without more Washington headwinds.”
Congress’ two budget negotiators hailed their own work.
The deal “reduces the deficit by $23 billion and it does not raise taxes. It cuts spending in a smarter way” than the ones in effect, said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee and was his party’s negotiator in several weeks of secretive talks.
His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said, “We have broken through the partisanship and gridlock” that could have produced a government shutdown in January.
The $63 billion in restoration of across-the-board spending would be doled out across this budget year and the next, which ends on Sept. 30, 2015.
The offsetting of $85 billion in deficit cuts would play out over a decade. They call for newly hired federal workers to make larger contributions to their own pensions, as well as an increase in a federal airport security fee that would add $5 to the cost of a typical roundtrip flight. Also included were savings from military retirement programs.