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How Congressional leaders made a budget crisis breakthrough

Trying the clear the deck for his replacement, outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner announced a tentative two-year budget deal that would boost defense and domestic programs and lift the debt ceiling through the spring of 2017. Political director Lisa Desjardins takes a closer look at the deal with Judy Woodruff.

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    The gridlock in Washington seems to be easing this week. Deals are being made, votes are being cast, and the speaker of the House is trying to clear the deck for his replacement waiting in the wings.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: Having listened to our members and listened to the American people, we have a budget agreement.


    The outgoing speaker of the House, John Boehner, used one of his final news conferences to make the announcement.


    The agreement is not perfect by any means. But the alternative was a clean debt ceiling increase, without any additional support for our troops and without any entitlement reforms.


    The deal would increase spending by $80 billion over the next two years, boosting both defense and domestic programs. It would also lift the federal debt ceiling through the spring of 2017.

    Within the divided House Republican Conference, the tentative agreement drew backing from Boehner supporters.

    REP. TOM COLE (R), Oklahoma: Like all these things, you wish you were negotiating with yourselves, but you're not. So, I think it will pass. And I think it ought to pass. And, again, fair enough to be critical of it. But I think, if you're going to do that, you have to lay out what you would do.

    REP. STEVE RUSSELL (R), Oklahoma: I'm encouraged by the fact that we're doing something that looks like a budget with the president.


    But the most conservative Republicans, members of the Freedom Caucus, who helped drive Boehner to retire, were not on board.

    REP. MO BROOKS (R), Alabama: I will not be voting for it, because, in my view, it's financially irresponsible.

    REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), Louisiana: This is a very complex deal. This thing must have taken weeks, probably months, to negotiate, and it's dropped on us in less than 48 hours.

    REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R), Kentucky: This is our problem with Speaker Boehner. He has been speaker of the United States, not speaker of the House of Representatives.


    Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, the man likely to become speaker, said the closed-door process of getting the deal stinks, and he declined to say how he'd vote. Boehner said he agrees about the process, but he argued the deal deserves support.


    When you have got bipartisan agreement in a town that is not known for a lot of bipartisanship, you're going to see bricks flying from those that don't like the fact that there's a bipartisan agreement.


    This afternoon, Senate leaders on both sides added their support.

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Minority Leader: This agreement is a victory over the loudest, most extreme voices in the Republican Party. Passing it into law would be a victory for common sense and for middle class.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Majority Leader: I am hopeful and optimistic that that bill will come over to the Senate, and, when it does, we will take it up.


    The House could vote tomorrow, with a goal of final congressional passage by next week's debt ceiling deadline.


    Later, President Obama welcomed word of the agreement, and urged quick action.

    Lisa joins us now from Capitol Hill with the latest.

    So, Lisa, hello.

    It is not quite a done deal, but, as we heard, the Democrats are celebrating already.


    Yes, Democrats are absolutely celebrating over in the Senate.

    Some of the top Senate Democrats sat down with reporters in the last two hours and said they feel like this is an incredible deal. This is a done deal in terms of this is the final offer from leaders in both the House and the Senate, Judy. But, of course, the voting matters here.

    And I have to tell you, Judy, tonight, it looks like this deal does have votes in both the House and the Senate largely because of those Democrats, as you were saying, Judy.


    Now, Lisa, what were the tradeoffs here? What was the politics? We know that both sides had to do some trading. What happened?


    That's right.

    There were immense politics involved here, of course, and it depends on who you talk to. Everyone is going to claim one thing or another. But if you take a step back, Democrats got something they wanted very much, which is a rollback of some steep spending cuts that were going to go in place for domestic non-defense programs last year.

    Republicans basically got the same thing for the defense programs that they like. The Pentagon has said it was really going to start feeling those cuts called sequester next year. Those two sides easily divided how they'd roll back those cuts. Now, that's something that some Republicans say wasn't fair because they have more votes, they wanted to only save defense.

    But, in the end, Democrats were able to come away with some money for some other domestic programs. Now, this bill is full of many other aspects as well. One other thing I want to point out, Judy, there are changes — some of it is paid by for changes in the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

    For example, a requirement on large employers that would automatically enroll their employees in health care, that would be frozen here. That's a win for Republicans. So, you really have to look through this deal. There is a lot for everyone here.

    One thing that Republicans didn't get of course is any savings on the debt. This deal in some ways will increase the deficit, depending on how you look at it. It's a bit of a budget gimmick, some people say.


    Now, what about the so-called entitlement programs, Medicare, Social Security? Are they affected by this?


    They are. There is some important news here.

    Some Medicare recipients were facing a very serious increase in premiums next year. That is now going to be frozen and spread out, so that those premiums will go up in later years, rather than next year. Social Security was facing perhaps the biggest crisis of any entitlement program next year. Its disability insurance was facing a cut in benefits. It was running out of money next year.

    Now that program will gain another six years of life, go through 2022 in this deal.


    Lisa, is Speaker Boehner prepared to push this through even without those conservative Republicans, in other words, with the votes of Democrats in the House?


    I think that's one of the important things here. That might be the biggest important thing, that what happened here is Speaker Boehner and also Majority Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell got together with their Democratic counterparts and decided they were going to govern, they were going to get past these crises, even if it took a combination of Democratic votes here in the House, maybe more Democratic votes than Republican votes.

    Yes, Speaker Boehner is ready to pass this basically with Democratic votes. And it's an amazing thing to think about. One month and two days ago, Judy, we were talking about Speaker Boehner having just resigned and the House in disarray.

    But Speaker Boehner also I think saw an opportunity to get through these crises and to govern. It was basically the four leaders here, Democrat and Republican, against the House conservatives, and the leaders showing this is how they want to govern.


    And on so many votes, he said he wouldn't do it with Democrats, if that's what it would take.


    But it will take that now, and he's doing it.


    Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you.


    My pleasure.

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