Senate poised to approve two-year budget bill to avoid shutdown

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2013 - The Senate is expected to approve a two-year budget bill (H.J. Res. 59) on Wednesday that seeks to avoid another government shutdown in January while providing some sequestration relief to federal agencies.

The move comes after the Senate approved, on a surprisingly strong 67-33 vote, a key procedural motion to advance the bill Tuesday. Twelve Republicans joined all the 53 Democrats and two Independents in support of the legislation, while 33 Republicans voted against it.

The legislation, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., seeks to provide $63 billion in temporary sequester relief split evenly between military spending and domestic spending. The bill also aims to provide $85 billion in mandatory savings, and reduce the deficit by $23 billion over the next 10 years.

Lets Talk Food

It remains unclear what type, if any, sequestration relief the USDA may receive. USDA has been relatively quiet on the issue, other than passing along a statement of administration policy in support of the legislation.

Murray said the bill would put “jobs and economic growth first by rolling back sequestration's harmful cuts to education, medical research, infrastructure investments, and defense jobs for the next two years.” Absent a budget deal, Murray said, lawmakers would have faced another continuing resolution that would have locked in the automatic cuts - or a potential government shutdown.

“It's a compromise-and that means neither side got everything they wanted, and both sides had to give a bit,” Murray said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the deal would spare the nation from “another senseless government shutdown and from even more automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January.”

Murphy said the bill would begin to roll back sequestration cuts over the next two years.

“This budget isn't perfect, and it's not the bill I would write-it doesn't include a much-needed extension of unemployment insurance, reduces some retirement benefits for future veterans and federal employees, and doesn't include broader changes to tax policy and entitlement programs-but that's the nature of compromise,” Murphy said.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as well as a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, voted to advance the bill, but took to the floor after the vote to criticize lawmakers for not including an extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.

Harkin said the looming drop of UI benefits coupled with proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in a new farm bill would harm millions of Americans. The House farm bill seeks a reduction of about $40 billion in SNAP while the Senate approach would cut out about $4 billion.

“At a time when there are three job seekers for every job, we hear that it's critical to take away food assistance from millions of individuals so that, supposedly, they will learn the redemptive power of work - as if young mothers working service jobs, laid off factory workers delivering newspapers, and unemployed families receiving SNAP benefits need to be lectured by members of the House of Representatives about work,” Harkin said.

Also, several Republican senators spoke Tuesday in opposition of the budget plan, largely because they say the bill would not reduce federal spending at high enough levels. At the same time, other senators were concerned the bill would cut too much from military spending.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he voted against allowing the bill to proceed because it does not adhere to the fiscal restraints under the congressionally-approved Budget Control Act (BCA), which ended a debt-ceiling crisis in 2011 and ushered in sequestration.

“I fully appreciate the constraints that Chairman Ryan and Chairman Murray faced in their negotiations,” McConnell said. “And there are clearly some good things to be said about their agreement. But in my view, we should not go back on the commitment we made under the BCA.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, voted against the legislation. Grassley said the bill would spend an additional $63 billion over the next two years while the government holds a $17 trillion debt. 

“To offset that higher spending, it raises revenue over ten years but spends that money in the first two years,” Grassley said. “Nearly all of the meager spending cuts come way down the road, in 2022 and 2023.”

Further, in support of the bill, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said it includes authorization for $404 million in funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility (NBAF) in Kansas, which will eventually replace the functions of the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island. NBAF will study dangerous foreign animal diseases as well as emerging and new infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people. 

“The only way for NBAF to receive anything close to $404 million is to go through the regular appropriations process, and you absolutely cannot do that without this budget agreement,” Jenkins said.

The House approved the bill Dec. 12 on a 332-94 vote.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

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