Congress' New Budget Deal: What It Does and Doesn't Do

On Friday, the House of Representatives will vote on the budget deal that Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan unveiled Tuesday. While it’s a pretty small deal, and has a long way to go before it becomes law, the mere fact that Democratic and Republican negotiators were able to come to an agreement on spending is something of a small miracle. The details are thorny and numerous, but here’s what you need to know about the general shape of the deal. In a sense, it’s much more notable for what it doesn’t do than what it does.

It Doesn't Raise The Debt Ceiling

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There won’t be another government shutdown if this deal passes, since it funds the government. Yay! But it also doesn’t extend the debt ceiling. Despite being generally crazy about this stuff, the GOP ultimately realized last time that allowing the nation to default on its debt was a bit too crazy, and backed down. They’ll most likely do the same the next time the debt limit nears, but betting that Congress will behave in a sane manner at some point in the future is, well, not a smart bet.

It Doesn't Touch Entitlements

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This was the big “win,” if you want to call it that, for Democrats. The deal doesn’t cut Social Security or Medicare benefits, and it doesn’t restructure either of the programs. Changing Social Security — or, in the eyes of many Democrats, ending Social Security — was a cornerstone of Ryan’s previous budget proposals.

It Doesn't Raise Taxes (Kind of)

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That’s the big win for Republicans, who always oppose any tax increases, except for tax increases on low- and middle-income Americans. But while the deal doesn’t call anything a “tax,” part of the way it raises revenue for spending increases is by raising “security fees” on airplane tickets. Currently, you pay a $2.50 fee per ticket — this deal would increase that to $5.60. What’s the difference between a “fee” and a “tax,” you ask? Politics.

It Doesn't Extend Unemployment Benefits

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This is the thing progressives will be most upset about. The extensions of unemployment insurance (UI) passed in 2009 and 2011 expire on December 28th of this year, at which point 1.3 million jobless Americans will stop receiving benefits. Eventually, another 2.8 million will lose their benefits, too. Democrats had pushed for another extension of those benefits to be included in the deal, but that didn’t happen. In protest, Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leadership have withheld their support for the bill, and it’s possible (in theory) that an extension of UI benefits could be added into the deal via an amendment. But this would require Democrats to be good at negotiating, which they are not, so in all likelihood, UI benefits will run out before the end of the month.

It Increases Spending

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If Congress does nothing, which it’s quite good at doing, the federal government will spend $967 billion in 2014. The Murray-Ryan deal would add $45 billion in spending to that, but it isn’t “new” spending, per se. The 2011 sequester law mercilessly cut the federal budget, and the primary goal of the Murray-Ryan deal is to undo those cuts (National Journal has an awesome graph showing how it would raise the money to do this). Is this really “increasing spending?” Or is it “undoing previous reductions in spending?” You say tomato, I say tomato.