Congressional Democrats Reach Agreement on Obama Budget
Updated 11: 27 a.m.
By Lori Montgomery
Congressional Democrats, meeting late into the evening with senior White House officials, reached a tentative agreement on President Obama's $3.5 trillion budget request, including use of a procedural shortcut to speed Obama's health and education initiatives through the Senate without Republican votes.
The deal, which must be ratified by a House-Senate conference committee, would not permit use of the maneuver known as "reconciliation" for Obama's climate-change initiative. Under the agreement, the Senate committee in charge of climate legislation would not receive authority to participate in a reconciliation bill, congressional aides said.
Reconciliation bills are privileged tax or spending measures that cannot be blocked by filibuster, meaning they need only 51 votes to pass the Senate rather than the usual 60. With 58 Senate seats, Democrats would not need any GOP support to pass a reconciliation bill.
Negotiators also sorted out a variety of other differences between the budget resolutions that passed the House and Senate earlier this month. They tentatively agreed to compromise on non-defense programs for the fiscal year that begins in October, setting a spending figure higher than the Senate wanted, but less than the House had approved. It would trim Obama's request by about $10 billion.
The deal also would protect millions of taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax for three more years. And it would prevent scheduled cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients for two years.
Both moves would dramatically increase annual budget deficits compared with current law, but they could take effect only if the House moves to enact budget rules to prevent the deficit from rising even further. Fiscal conservatives in the House appeared to have lost their battle to force the Senate to hold a vote on those budget rules as well, aides said.
It was unclear this morning whether additional deficit-reduction provisions may be part of the agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been pressing forcefully for the creation of a commission to examine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and propose ways to bring their spiraling costs under control, according to sources close to the negotiations. The idea is strongly opposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and has gotten no support from the White House.
But as one of only three Senate members on the conference committee, Conrad may have leverage to win concessions.
The other Senate conferees are Washington Democrat Patty Murray and top Budget Republican Judd Gregg (N.H.). House members are Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.).
The conference committee is likely to meet early next week. If the panel ratifies the agreement, it would then face a vote in each chamber. Such a vote, also expected next week, would finalize the deal on Obama's schedule. The budget resolution is not signed by the president, but sets the framework for spending and tax bills later this year.
White House officials are urging lawmakers to finish their work quickly, so Obama can claim victory on the budget within his first 100 days.
Web Politics Editor
April 24, 2009; 10:52 AM ET
Categories: The Budget
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