Boehner's parting gift: A two-year budget deal and debt ceiling increase
The congressional leadership has reached a two-year budget deal that all but eliminates the notion of "sequester" and adds $80 billion in spending.
The deal is the brainchild of outgoing speaker of the House John Boehner, who used incoming speaker Paul Ryan's budget template from 2013 as a starting point.
In addition to insuring funding for the government through March 2017, the bill would also raise the debt ceiling, good until that date.
The product was the result of weeks of negotiations between Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The bill would raise spending caps by $80 billion -- $50 billion in the first year and $30 billion in the second year -- divided equally between defense and domestic programs.
Even though Ryan's fingerprints aren't on the deal -- a deliberate move by the presumptive speaker and Boehner -- the framework of the agreement is very similar to the two-year budget deal he crafted in 2013 when he chaired the budget panel with his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington.
The new spending under the accord would be offset by sales from the strategic petroleum oil reserve, use of public airwaves for telecommunications companies and changes to the crop insurance program — among other measures.
Moreover, the deal would spread out increases in Medicare premiums over time so beneficiaries don't feel them acutely. It would extend the 2% cuts scheduled for Medicare to extend an additional year.
It would also overhaul the Social Security disability trust fund in an attempt to prevent a 20% reduction in cuts to benefits. The $5 billion in savings would come from redistributing payroll benefits, not cutting them, sources said.
The plan includes more money for the Pentagon's overseas contingency account, and it would repeal a provision in Obamacare forcing workers to automatically enroll in employer-sponsored health care.
Despite the GOP concerns, if Pelosi agrees to back the package, and Boehner can deliver a large segment of his conference, it could be enough to overcome opposition from conservative factions.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, said that "big broad strokes" were presented to members Monday night "that all sounded wonderful and maybe even too good to be true."
Indeed, many GOP lawmakers in both sides of the Capitol were disappointed that party leaders couldn't get more from the White House by making such a huge concession -- to raise the national debt limit for longer than a year -- especially since this issue has been so contentious during Boehner's nearly five years as speaker.
So, to sum up, a deal that would "reform" entitlements by saving all of $5 billion over two years was granted to Republicans in exchange for the loss of sequester, an $80-billion increase in spending, and a two-year debt limit extension.
I hope Boehner opens a used car dealership in Ohio when he goes home. I'd love to negotiate a deal with him.
Is this really the best deal Republicans could get? I think there is something to the criticism by some conservatives that Boehner gave up too much because he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. He also wanted to clear the decks of contentious issues for Paul Ryan, although given the temper of the right in the House, anything and everything could become contentious.
By the time this deal runs out, there will be a new Congress sitting in Washington. Will it be more conservative? More liberal? Democrat? Republican? Those who don't think down-ballot races are important should look at this deal and vote accordingly.