By Kelsey Snell,
House Republican leaders introduced legislation just before midnight on Monday, finalizing a two-year budget agreement between Congressional leaders and the White House. The introduction sets up a vote as early as Wednesday on the bipartisan budget deal which would increase military and domestic spending and avert a potentially catastrophic default in exchange for long-term spending cuts.
The 144-page bill, which is the result of weeks of negotiations between the White House and Congressional leaders, would increase spending by $80 billion over two years and would increase the federal borrowing limit through March 15, 2017. A Wednesday vote all but ensures the budget deal will be one of the last acts for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) who intends to step down from the speakership by Friday.
The timeline is tight for building support for the plan with the Treasury Department saying the debt ceiling will be hit by Nov. 3. The legislation is expected to be the primary issue discussed on Tuesday morning during a weekly closed-door meeting of House Republicans.
[Congressional leaders and White House are closing in on a budget deal]
But it remains unclear if House conservatives will support the deal, leaving Boehner and his allies to spend his final days in office rallying support for a potentially unpopular agreement. If he is successful the deal could clear the slate for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) who is expected to be elected speaker later this week.
The agreement includes about $80 billion in additional spending over two years, divided equally between defense and domestic programs. Those spending increases would be offset by savings from changes to the Social Security disability insurance fund and Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. New revenue would be raised by auctioning off portions of government owned broadcast spectrum, selling oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve and by cracking down on audits of large business partnerships.
It also includes an additional $16 billion over two years from off-budget spending increases from the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund. That portion would not need to be offset, but Democrats previously opposed using the money for defense-only spending. In addition, a premium increase for Medicare Part B recipients would be prevented from going into effect.
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New rules for the Social Security disability Insurance fund, which is expected to run out of funds by the end of 2016 are expected to deliver savings along with changes to Medicare provider payments and Medicaid generic drug costs.
Republican leaders plan to use a tax bill that already passed the Senate as the vehicle for the legislation, which is labeled as a “discussion draft” in the official paperwork, in order to speed up the procedural path to success for the bill but that may not be enough to guarantee success.
Boehner presented broad outlines of the deal to House Republicans on Monday evening but did not include full details of how the spending increases would be offset. Many left the meeting without deciding if they would support the bill.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas) said the mood in the meeting was “mildly positive,” but members are waiting to hear the full details of the deal.
“It was better than I expected,” Flores said. “I’m not going to say it was ebullient and it wasn’t dour.”
But many conservatives criticized the deal before it was even released.
“I would say that we’re very skeptical at this point,” said John Fleming (R-La.). He added that some members, including Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), confronted Boehner at the meeting for going around committee chairs.
“He threw the committee chairmen under the bus,” Fleming said.
Several of the provisions, like the long-term changes to the Social Security Disability program are likely to alienate some House Republicans who questioned whether the savings achieved over time would be worth allowing an increase in spending now.
“I can’t vote for something where we spend the money today and save it 10 years from now,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.). “That to me is crazy.”
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