Congress raced this week to approve a deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to continue funding the U.S. government and its debt obligations through early next year. After more than two weeks of a stand-off shutting down most federal government agency activities, legislators sought to reach an agreement to avoid a first-ever default on America’s debt, which the Treasury Department indicated would be at risk after October 17. The deal struck resolves the immediate dilemma, but likely sets up a new battle in the early days of 2014.
Advanced by a 81-18 vote in the Senate and a 285-144 vote in the House (all dissenting votes were Republicans), the agreement funds the government through January 15 and suspends the national debt ceiling until February 7.It is no accident that a new round of automatic across-the-board “sequester” cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act kick in at the same time unless they are checked beforehand by Congressional action. The deal passed this week also requires a bicameral conference committee on the federal budget, the first to meet since 2009. This committee, led by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA), is tasked with resolving funding differences for FY2014 by December 13. While the primary goal is to resolve differences for the one year, some wonder if a broader “grand bargain” on tax and entitlement reform could be moved forward in these negotiations.
After a breakfast held Thursday morning among the Budget Chairmen and their committees’ Ranking Members, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the leaders sought to strike a positive tone. “We believe there is common ground and we can show the American people that Congress can work,” stated Senator Murray. Rep. Ryan concurred, “We want to look for ways to find common ground to get a budget agreement.”
The December 13 deadline will come quickly as the holiday season approaches. NRB will be watching closely.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: October 18, 2013