John Boehner’s Parting Gift to Paul Ryan: A Two-year Budget and Debt Ceiling Deal

by Joan McCarter –

Boehner Gavel

John Boehner gets to leave the U.S. House of Representatives having accomplished something besides turning the institution over to a bunch of crazy ideologues: He’s bucking those same ideologues with a budget deal that will make the next speaker’s job easier—for a couple of years, anyway. The deal struck between Boehner, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, and the White House will set funding levels for the government into 2017 as well as raise the debt ceiling until March 2017. That means the new speaker, almost assuredly Paul Ryan, won’t have to work around the nihilists during an election year.

Here are the basics of the deal: It breaks the sequester that’s been in place since the Budget Control Act of 2011 and raises funding levels overall $80 billion above the caps that sequestration currently allows. That increase is split 50-50 between defense and non-defense spending, with $50 billion allocated for 2016 and $30 billion for 2017. As a bit of a sop to Republicans, it also adds $32 billion for the overseas contingency fund for defense, money that does not have to be offset. So the increased totals in spending authorized over existing sequestration caps for the next two years is $112 billion. It reallocates Social Security retirement funds to shore up Social Security disability insurance funds, keeping it solvent, and solves a glitch in cost-of-living calculations that threatened to increase premiums by more than 50 percent for about 8 million seniors on Medicare Part B.

Where the money comes from is important, and for once in a grand bargain is not awful. There’s increased tax enforcement on hedge funds and private equity firms. In addition, “Congress would cover some of the costs by selling additional broadcast spectrum bandwidth and oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, as well as by making changes to crop insurance programs.” There are also extended Medicare cuts on the provider side—a two percent decrease in reimbursements to doctors that was included in the sequester and extended in this deal for several more years. Social Security disability insurance will have some new measures in place that the deal negotiators are selling as fraud prevention—they create a new hoop for some applicants to jump through in states where the initial review is currently done by Social Security administrators. Now all applicants will have to get their initial application reviewed by doctors. It also reportedly sets up demonstration projects that allow disability recipients to earn money by working and not triggering reviews that could cut off benefits. Instead, benefits could be reduced as income rises.

Nancy Altman, president of advocacy group Social Security Works, tells Greg Sargent that the deal works for them and that ultimately it’s a win because the hostage that Social Security and Medicare have been for Republicans “has been released.” With that sign-off, few Democrats are likely to be opposed to the deal.

On the other side, conservative Republicans are not happy, with the crazy caucus whining. “We’re not just here to take commands,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a member of the Freedom Caucus. “People back home expect us to participate in the process. I hope that Paul Ryan will let us know how he feels about the process.” Paul Ryan weighed in saying the process “stinks” and that “Under new management we are not going to do the people’s business this way …” Privately, he’s got to be rejoicing that he has two years in which he doesn’t have to negotiate for hostages with the GOP terrorists.

The package is scheduled to go to the House floor on Wednesday and to the Senate immediately after, probably for a Thursday vote. It’s not likely there will be enough of a Republican revolt to derail it, Ryan’s feeble protestations notwithstanding.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos