For the first time in four years, Congress considers two different spending blueprints. But that crucial first step is a long way from a final agreement.
Budget disagreements between Democrats and Republicans in Congress have become routine with arguments over policy, quickly becoming arguments over politics.
Then, something changed.
The Democratically-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House reached agreement on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded through this fiscal year; through the end of September. The resolution sent to President Barack Obama eases some of the pain of the $85 million in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts enacted when Congress last failed to agree on a spending plan, the so-called sequestration cuts. The agreement avoided a government shutdown.
“We did it by working together,” Congressman Lee Terry, a Republican, tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Boy, it really stunned the D.C. press, too. They were beside themselves that there was no controversy.”
Terry sees two reasons Congress reached agreement on the current spending plan. One, neither Republicans nor Democrats took extreme positions. Two, both the Senate and House reverted to normal budget procedures.
Could it signal a change in the continual, caustic budget battles?
Congressman Adrian Smith says that is a possibility.
“We want and need to do our job of having a good debate. We want to avoid that bickering that takes place. It’s not only unproductive, but it can be counter-productive,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.
While the work to reach a compromise to keep the government running and lessen the pain of the sequestration broke through political stalemates, much room for partisan politics remains.
The budget blueprints for Fiscal Year 2014 differ greatly.
Republican leadership in the House proposes to balance the federal budget in 10 years through spending cuts totaling $4.6 trillion. It also would repeal President Obama’s landmark healthcare law and make changes to Medicare. It received no support from House Democrats.
Democrats in the Senate propose increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and on corporations by $975 billion over the next 10 years. It includes a $100 billion economic stimulus plan, paying for infrastructure improvements to create jobs throughout the country. It would reduce the annual $1 trillion federal budget deficit to $566 billion a year, tacking $5.2 trillion to the federal debt. It barely passed the Senate.
Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican, sees little room for agreement between the two spending plans.
“I’ll be a bit surprised if they’re even conferenced, because they are so very different,” Johanns says in an interview with Nebraska Radio Network. “The House budget balances in 10 years. The Senate budget never balances. I mean, it never would achieve balance. In fact, it adds trillions and trillions to the debt.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]