House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), left, shakes hands with Senate Majority… (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters )
Congressional leaders reached a short-term spending deal Tuesday that would remove the possibility of a government shutdown from the fall campaign season, as fiscal conservatives who swept into office after the 2010 midterm elections on promises to battle for lower spending at every turn showed a new willingness to pick their fights as they seek a big win in November.
Under an agreement announced by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Congress would agree to fund the government for six months when the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, setting agency spending for the year at $1.047 trillion, as agreed to in last summer’s debt deal. It is just above this year’s level of $1.043 trillion.
The deal would ensure that the government would keep operating without fuss, a once-routine action that has become far more difficult amid Congress’s gridlock.
The quick resolution demonstrated that neither party wants a major budget showdown weeks before the November election.
The bill’s six-month time frame means the government has the operating money necessary to function through March, removing one issue from the list of difficult questions that will face Congress in December.
But it doesn’t resolve broader fiscal issues that will arise after the November election, including how to deal with scheduled tax increases and additional automatic defense and domestic spending cuts set to take effect in January.
Reid and Boehner said that more time is needed to draft the deal into legislation and that it will not come up for votes in the House and the Senate until September, when Congress returns from a six-week recess.
Still, Reid said the agreement would provide the government stability in coming months and allow Congress to quickly turn to other pressing fiscal issues after the election.
“It puts this out of the way, and that’s very important,” he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the deal a “welcome development.”
“The president has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year,” he said. “The president will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals.”
Democrats and the White House have insisted for months on the $1.047 trillion level — a spending limit that both parties agreed to in last summer’s deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
Some conservatives have chafed, viewing the number as a maximum spending level and insisting that Congress should push actual spending for the year even lower. A budget for the full year outlined by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) set agency spending at $1.028 trillion for the year.
But a number of GOP freshman who have regularly voted against spending measures — and who exactly a year ago helped push the nation to the brink of its first default in pursuit of deep budget cuts — indicated Tuesday that they could sign on to the deal.
They argued that a short-term concession could improve Republicans’ leverage, if they win the White House and take control of the Senate in November, to achieve more dramatic change. It is the kind of big-picture strategizing that Republican leaders have sometimes fretted their restive newest members lacked.
Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said he is deeply troubled by the $1.047 trillion number, but is likely to support the legislation.
“It’s a lousy deal,” he said. “But I think in the long run it gets us a better chance to get what we want.”
Conservatives argue that a six-month extension, lasting through March 2013, would deny Democrats the chance to use the threat of a shutdown as leverage during a broader tax-and-spending debate set to take place during Congress’s lame-duck session in December.
“Lame-duck sessions are usually a disaster. The less we’re doing during the lame duck, the better,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a freshman who has criticized GOP leaders as not slashing spending quickly enough.
He cautioned that he is concerned that the deal may allow continued funding for the implementation of the Democrats’ health-care reform law, a sticking point that could spell trouble for the deal.