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White House Urges Congress To Approve 2-Year Budget Deal

Oct 27, 2015
Originally published on October 28, 2015 3:16 pm
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Here's something we haven't seen in a while - top Republicans and Democrats in Washington agree on something. That something is a temporary truce on the budget that would lift the threat of a government shutdown or a debt default for the rest of President Obama's time in office. As with most compromises, this deal includes something for everyone to like and dislike. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It might be a stretch to call this deal a major step forward - as the White House does - but if it's approved, at least the government won't be tripping the economy up. Nariman Behrivesh of the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight says the deal would end the suspense over whether the government keeps its lights on and continues to pay its bills.

NARIMAN BEHRIVESH: Just removing the uncertainty will help businesses feel a little more confident about hiring more, about making big bets on investment projects, so reducing uncertainty is always a good thing.

HORSLEY: The deal also contains good news for millions of Medicare recipients, who were facing a costly premium increase next year. Dan Adcock, who's with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, says the deal would spread that cost out over a much longer period.

DAN ADCOCK: It kind of is a layaway option on a much larger premium increase, but it's still going to provide a relief to millions of seniors who would otherwise been facing a 52 percent premium increase in Medicare part B.

HORSLEY: For the nearly nine million people who get disability payments from Social Security, the agreement prevents a substantial benefit cut next year. All those features are likely to be popular. Paying for them is another story. The additional spending in the deal is supposed to be matched with offsetting savings. But Steve Ellis of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense complains many of those savings won't show up for years - if ever.

STEVE ELLIS: A lot of times what happens is that promises are made now and then when it comes time to actually pay the piper, Congress decides they don't want to do that and they undo that piece of legislation and maybe promise future savings down the road.

HORSLEY: Ellis can only scratch his head at the deal's plan to sell 58 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, at a time when oil is trading well below $50 a barrel.

ELLIS: I guess it's a new government initiative - buy high and sell low. With oil prices as low as they are, they're not going to generate a lot of revenue. Clearly this is a one-time insurgence of cash and doesn't make a lot of sense.

HORSLEY: Former congressional staffer Stan Collender, who tweets under the handle @thebudgetguy, is skeptical about another claim in the deal - that the government can raise $11 billion through stricter tax collection on hedge funds and the like.

STAN COLLENDER: This is a typical budget gimmick. Let's just assume the IRS is going to be able to bring in more money. And it's not clear that's going to happen.

HORSLEY: Still, whatever unsavory byproducts this sausage might contain, Collender says it does represent a rare slice of consensus, just when it seemed Washington might've lost that recipe.

COLLENDER: These days, if you can get Democrats and Republicans voting together on anything, it's a rather remarkable feat. But remember it took the resignation of the speaker of the House of Representatives to get this deal done. This really doesn't change the fundamentals of the political situation in Washington at all.

HORSLEY: The deal would spare the incoming House speaker - presumably Paul Ryan - of having to fight these budget battles until after the next election. It would also help seal the legacy of outgoing Speaker John Boehner. Though whether that's a legacy of self-sacrifice or selling out might depend on who you ask. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.