New Budget Deal Reverses a Portion of Sequester Cuts

December 20, 2013

The budget deal struck by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) passed the House and the Senate by votes of 332-94 and 64-36, respectively.  In the Senate, nine Republican senators voted with 55 Democrats and two Independents in support of the joint resolution.  In the House, 169 Republicans voted for the resolution with 62 against; 163 Democrats voted in favor with 32 against.

The budget resolution is a two year agreement that authorizes discretionary spending for fiscal years 2014 (FY14) and 2015 (FY15).  The deal increases both defense discretionary and non-defense discretionary spending by $22B each in FY14 and $9B each in FY15 above the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, effectively reversing a portion of sequester cuts.  Total spending for defense discretionary in FY14 is capped at $520B and in FY15 is $521B.  Total spending for non-defense discretionary is capped at $491B in FY14 and at $492B in FY15.  Overall spending is set at $1,012B in FY14, exactly splitting the difference between the original House and Senate budget plans.  The agreement uses a number of offsets for the spending increases, such as increased federal-employee contribution to retirement programs for new hires, rescinding available funds for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increasing aviation security service fees and limiting compensation for government contractors.

The reaction to the budget deal has been guarded among lawmakers and mixed outside the beltway.  Even before the budget deal was reached, conservative think tanks such as Heritage Action stated they were against the deal. And now that a deal has been struck, additional conservative groups are lamenting the outcome, with the Cato Institute calling the package a “huge Republican cave-in” and FreedomWorks calling it “a surrender.”  Rep. Paul Ryan downplayed the actions of conservative think tanks, stating “[g]roups are going to do what they want” and even calling such action “the new normal.”  House Speaker John Boehner called the outcry from conservative groups “ridiculous.”

Speaker Boehner, ignoring outside pressure, brought the Ryan-Murray plan to a vote within days of its release.

After passage in the House, action shifted to the Senate, where the Senate first voted 67-33 to end debate on the Ryan-Murray plan and then voted 64-36 to approve the plan.  Despite the opposition from conservative groups, 12 republicans voted to end debate on the measure and nine voted for final passage.  Notably, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – who will face a difficult re-election next year – voted against it.

Now that both chambers adopted the Ryan-Murray plan, appropriators will have just under a month to implement the budget resolution by modifying the Continuing Resolution set to expire on Jan 15, 2014 or replacing it with one or more appropriations bills.  Congressional staff will be working around the clock during the holidays to complete the bills by the deadline, but it is uncertain how they will allocate the additional $45B. Now is the time to get in touch with your representative and senators and let them know why support of scientific research is important – to economic growth, national security and health.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.