In a not-often-seen show of bipartisan spirit Congressional Democrats and Republicans came together on Tuesday to announce an $85 billion “compromise” budget deal that could potentially avert another government shutdown, on January 15.
The deal, which was jointly announced by Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, fixes federal spending at $1.012 trillion, which was said to be “roughly halfway between the $1.058tn sought by Democrats in the Senate and the $967bn proposed by the Republican-controlled House.”
While it may not herald the start of a new era of bipartisan cooperation, as some media reports here suggested, a compromise of this scale has been absent for the best part of the previous 30 years, it was observed.
This week’s agreement was said to be a package that had “something for everyone to dislike,” because neither does it make available any new tax revenue as Democrats may prefer, nor does it authorise any cuts to welfare programmes such as Medicare and Social Security, as Republicans would have liked.
However one signal accomplishment of the deal hammered out this week is that it engenders a scale-back of the punishing, across-the-board automatic “sequestration” expenditure cuts, to the tune of $63bn over two years, divided evenly between defence and non-defence spending.
The net effect of the deal on the sequester as well as its implications for bipartisan cooperation in Congress may be that the nation’s troubled macroeconomics are stabilised in the medium term and the threat of looming credit downgrades may dissipate.
Possibly recognising this upside, U.S. President Barack Obama described the budget deal as “a good first step” and Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority leader Eric Cantor suggested that they would allow the measure to pass with a vote of bipartisan support.
Mr. Obama further said that although the agreement “doesn’t include everything I’d like… that’s the nature of compromise.” He nevertheless praised his Congressional colleagues from both parties for being able to “come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”
Some groups on both sides of aisle, however, expressed disapproval.
The union group AFL-CIO blasted the deal, saying that federal workers were acting as a “punching bag” for Republicans. Their leaders also pointed out that the painful issue of long-term unemployment benefits, set to expire soon, remained unresolved and played into the hands of Republicans.
Similarly Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said the proposal “continues Washington's irresponsible budgeting decisions… instead of making some tough decisions about how to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges caused by runaway Washington spending.”