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Budget deal breaks through partisan gridlock


Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray walk to their joint news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and Washington State Democrat Patty Murray hailed the budget deal they unveiled Tuesday night as a “step in the right direction,” averting another potential government shutdown in the new year and breaking through the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress in recent years.

The lead negotiators acknowledged the bipartisan agreement, which rolls back some of the sequester spending cuts while achieving $22 billion in additional deficit savings, involved compromise from both sides.

The Morning Line

“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, told reporters at a Tuesday evening news conference at the Capitol.

“Because of this deal, the budget process can now stop lurching from crisis to crisis,” added Murray, who chairs the Senate Budget panel.

CQ Roll Call’s Adriel Bettelheim outlines the top line numbers in the plan:

The pact would swell the cap on spending this year to $1.012 trillion, up from the sequester level of $967 billion that was set in the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25). That would also amount to a $26 billion increase over the current $986 billion level of spending in the stopgap funding bill (PL 113-46) that expires Jan. 15.

Ryan sought to head off concerns from conservatives about raising the spending cap by noting the agreement reduces the deficit and does not violate the party’s core principle of opposing tax hikes.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery breaks down how lawmakers plan to offset the $63 billion in sequester relief included in the proposal:

That cost would be covered through a mix of policies to be implemented over the next decade. They include $12.6 billion in higher security fees for airline passengers, $8 billion in higher premiums for federal insurance for private pensions, $6 billion in reduced payments to student-loan debt collectors and $3 billion saved by not completely refilling the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves.

Another large chunk of savings — $12 billion over the next decade — would come from reduced contributions to federal pensions, split evenly between military retirees and new civilian workers who start after Dec. 31.

For those in the military, the reduction would take the form of lower cost-of-living increases for retirees between the ages of 40 and 62, many of whom take other jobs while collecting their military pensions. New civilian workers, meanwhile, would be required to contribute an additional 1.3 percent to their retirements.

From President Barack Obama on down, politicians are cautiously embracing the deal even while saying the proposal isn’t how they would have crafted it.

“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise,” Mr. Obama said. “But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”

House Speaker John Boehner backed the deal right after the announcement. He called it “modest in scale” but a good step forward for spending cuts and reducing the deficit without raising taxes.

Because the cuts don’t go far enough for Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican was among the first lawmakers to oppose the plan out of the gate, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to vote no as well.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “compromise” should not be a bad word, and applauded the deal done outside of “hostage-taking or crisis-making.”

“We didn’t get what we wanted, they didn’t get what they wanted,” he said. “But that’s what legislation is all about, working together.”

But outside conservative groups have already started lobbying against that compromise.

Al Cardenas of the American Conservative Union asked members of the conference committee tasked with crafting the plan but mostly shut out of the process to “get back to work,” and called the cost-cutting in the measure “gimmicks.”

“Conservatives prefer a wiser approach to cost-cutting than the sequester but appreciate the beginning of a more disciplined approach to spending,” he said. “The solution is not to walk away from progress and add over $60 billion in spending over the next two years.”

“Congressman Ryan claims that the plan doesn’t raise taxes,” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “But whether the government collects more revenue by fees, taxes, tariffs, excises, or penalties, the government is still taking more of your money to pay for its spending addiction. Our federal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

“This budget compromise is not just bad policy, it is bad politics,” said Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips. “The American people remember hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester, and are not pleased to see their conservative representatives so easily go back on their word to rein in government over-spending.”

What remains unclear is how that criticism might translate to votes — or a lack of votes — on Capitol Hill. A group of at least 33 House Republicans penned a letter to Boehner before the deal was announced asking the speaker to put forward a continuing resolution that keeps the sequester fully in place.

On CNN’s Crossfire Tuesday, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a leader among conservatives who have revolted against Boehner on this and other matters, said the proposal “doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.”

“I think we’ve always settled for less than we can get with this leadership,” the Kansas Republican said.

House GOP leaders will brief members Wednesday morning. The mood after that meeting will give a big indication of whether Congress will meet its Friday deadline or push things into the holidays.

LINE ITEMS

  • A new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that just over 364,000 people have selected a plan and enrolled during the first two months of the Affordable Care Act’s federally run insurance marketplace. NewsHour National Affairs Editor Murrey Jacobson has the details here.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify about the numbers and HealthCare.gov on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
  • Another round of national polls show lackluster news for the president. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found Mr. Obama with a 43 percent approval rating. A USA Today poll finds Mr. Obama remaining in the second-term doldrums. And a Bloomberg National Poll found the president’s job approval has plummeted to a new low of 42 percent.
  • The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett, the first of three presidential nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, on a 56 to 38 vote Tuesday. Rep. Mel Watt was confirmed as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency on a 57 to 41 vote. Both nominations had been stalled but were moved through quickly thanks to a change Senate Democrats made to their rules.
  • Watt’s confirmation kicks off a crowded special election.
  • Katherine Clark won the special House election in Massachusetts to fill the seat left vacant by Sen. Ed Markey’s victory earlier this year.
  • Politico’s David Rogers writes that farm bill negotiators won’t finish their work before the end-of-year recess, but may be close to a deal that would mean an early January vote.
  • A White House aide says newly returning Obama adviser John Podesta will recuse himself from matters dealing with the Keystone XL Pipeline, which he opposes.
  • Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is looking for a new running mate after his choice for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Eric Kearney, left the race Tuesday following weeks of questions about his finances.
  • Mr. Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt posed for a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. First Lady Michelle Obama did not seem amused.
  • Democrats gave Sen. Ted Cruz an “earful” on the way to South Africa for the Mandela service, Talking Points Memo reports. And Cruz walked out of the venue when Raul Castro spoke.
  • Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., still seems to be in a tossup campaign for re-election.
  • Another day, another Edward Snowden leak. The Washington Post reports that the National Security Agency is using Google “cookies,” the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, and location data “to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance.”
  • Slate’s David Weigel sees the media buying into a “fake” battle between the Democratic group Third Way and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  • GOP officials this week are mourning prominent Illinois Republican Rich Williamson, who lost to Carol Moseley Braun in 1992. He died Sunday at the age of 64.
  • Three female lawmakers honor three of their colleagues for Politico’s “Women Rule” series. GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand calls Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California her mentor, and Rep. Barbara Lee honors her fellow California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer for her work on climate change.
  • Farewell, Russell Senate Building Post Office!
  • The Washington Press Club Foundation announced that Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., will be the featured speakers at the Feb. 5 annual congressional dinner. Disclosure: Christina is co-chairwoman of the foundation’s dinner committee.
  • Which member of Congress is “Home Alone?” Roll Call’s Abby Livingston is back with holiday movie comparisons for Heard on the Hill.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The NewsHour devoted a hefty portion of Tuesday’s program to the Mandela memorial service, and Gwen Ifill spoke with Charlayne Hunter-Gault from Johannesburg. Watch here. You can also see Mr. Obama’s remarks here or below.

  • Three years after the Dodd-Frank financial reform act made it law, five regulators approved the so-called Volcker Rule Tuesday. Simone Pathe explains what the Volcker Rule is and how it will change banking.
  • And Jeffrey Brown interviewed Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets and Wayne Abernathy of the American Bankers Association about the law.
  • Did you know just 22 women lead Fortune 500 companies? Judy Woodruff spoke with Forbes’ Micki Maynard about the new CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Aileen Graef contributed to this report.

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