House Approves Ryan-Murray Budget Agreement

On Thursday, December 12, the House passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (H.J. Res. 59) by a vote of 332-94. A total of 62 Republicans and 32 Democrats voted against the two-year budget agreement put together by Budget Conference Committee leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Nearly all Republicans who voted against the bill are members of the conservative Republican Study Committee and had been advocating for a sequester-level continuing resolution. Democrats who voted against the bill, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) – the only member of House leadership who voted against the measure – were upset over the provisions impacting federal employees and Republican refusal to include an extension of unemployment benefits even though a provision to avert Medicare physician payment cuts was added to the bill by amendment.

The legislation establishes an overall discretionary spending limit for FY 2014 at $1.012 trillion, setting discretionary defense spending at $520.5 billion and non-defense discretionary spending at $491.8 billion. The bill also establishes a $1.014 trillion discretionary spending cap for FY 2015; mitigates sequestration by $63 billion over two years – $45 billion in FY 2014 and $18 billion in FY 2015 – split evenly between defense and non-defense activities; and includes $85 billion in deficit reduction through a package of savings and non-tax revenue, measures confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office to reduce the deficit by $23 billion over the next 10 years.

Senate Action This Week

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed for cloture on the bill, setting up a cloture vote for Tuesday and a final vote as early as Wednesday; however, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) vowed to slow the bill down as much as possible, which could delay the final vote into Thursday or even Friday.

Despite pronounced opposition to the budget agreement by Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Democratic leaders and Sen. Murray are hopeful the overwhelming House vote will sway enough moderate and undecided Republicans to join Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in supporting the measure and giving them the five to eight Republican votes required to meet the 60-vote cloture threshold.  Key Republican targets include the usual suspects, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who usually aligns with Sen. McCain on defense issues, released a statement citing the changes to military pensions as the reason for her opposition to the bill.

While Republicans will not make it easy for Leader Reid, the bill is expected to pass in the Senate and be signed by the President by the end of this week. Even Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposes the bill, predicted there will be sufficient Republican support for it to pass.

Appropriators Ready For Action

While the budget agreement is a significant step in curtailing the fiscal crises of the past few years, it only establishes the topline spending levels for FY 2014 and FY 2015. Appropriators must now work to develop a full-year budget package based on the funding parameters established in the agreement before the current continuing resolution expires on January 15. The first step will be for Appropriations Chairs Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) to establish topline spending levels, known as 302(b)s, for each of the twelve appropriations bills. The chairs already have met to discuss these allocations and could make an announcement this week.

Committee staff also have begun to outline funding and policy differences between House and Senate versions of the FY 2014 spending bills in an effort to put together an omnibus bill by early January.