Congress Closes In on a Big Deal to Bust Through Budget Caps

Congress Closes In on a Big Deal to Bust Through Budget Caps

Senate leaders voiced optimism Tuesday that they are closing in on a two-year budget deal that would avert a government shutdown on Friday and bring an end to months of Congress lurching from one temporary spending measure to the next. The agreement reportedly would bust through budget caps for fiscal 2018 and 2019 to raise federal spending by about $300 billion in total.

“We are closer to an agreement than we have ever been,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“I’m optimistic that very soon we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.

But getting a two-year deal done ahead of the February 8 deadline will still likely involve a game of budget bill ping-pong:

  • As of now, House Republicans are likely to pass a stop-gap bill Tuesday night that would boost funding for the military through September but keep the rest of the government funded at current levels, and only through March 23. Among other things, the bill would also provide two years of funding for the federal community health-center program.
  • That bill would then bounce to the Senate, where it probably has no chance of passing since Democrats there want any increase in the defense budget to be matched with an equal boost to non-defense spending.
  • Instead, the Senate could end up amending the House bill and folding in the agreement to lift spending caps. The overall deal could also address the federal debt ceiling, which will need to be raised by early March, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

House conservatives might still balk at raising the debt ceiling, meaning Democratic votes might be needed for the amended legislation to pass. And, according to Roll Call, House Democrats might look to use that leverage to demand that Speaker Paul Ryan commit to bringing up an immigration bill for debate on the House floor.