Monday, May 1, 2017

Listen: the budget deal released last night is okay. (updated)

Last night, Congressional leaders released a budget deal (PDF here, breakdowns here) to fund the government through to September.  And it's kind of astonishing... but it looks okay!  Not great -- not even good -- but okay.

The deal looks almost nothing like the proposed Trump budget.  Gone are the huge slashes to every department.  The EPA keeps almost all of its funding (less than a 1% cut).  Planned Parenthood will still be reimbursed for their work.  There's no money for any deportation force, and not only is there no money for a wall, there's even specific language to prevent the administration from using existing funds to start on a wall (as they'd planned).  There's no attempt to hurt sanctuary cities.  There's extra money for the opioid crisis, and the Biden "moonshot" cancer research program got an additional $2 billion, rather than the proposed $1.2 billion in cuts that the administration demanded.  There's funding to help Puerto Rico and there's funding to permanently fund coal miner pensions (as a bipartisan group of representatives have been demanding).

To be honest, this is very similar to an Obama compromise budget from 2014 or 2015 than the Trump proposal.  The administration got virtually nothing they wanted, except an increase in military funding (half of their request) and more money for border security (wasteful in this climate, but whatever).  And this spending bill isn't a short-term continuing resolution, like last week: it funds the government through September and it represents the first significant bipartisan bill out of Congress so far.

So what could happen with this?  There's still some uncertainty, since this bill is only an agreement among the leadership.  It still needs to pass the House and the Senate, and then get signed by the president, before it becomes law.  I think it's pretty likely it passes Congress (it would be very embarrassing for Ryan and McConnell if it fails!), but I'm less sure of the White House; it's possible that the White House decides to flex its muscles and veto the bill as a flashy show of strength.

The most likely thing is that they pass the bill and then engage in some frenzied spin, proclaiming it a victory, and then push for a more Trumpy budget next year.  And if this does get vetoed, it certainly won't help with the appearance of chaos at the White House -- and given how successful Pelosi and Schumer have already been at the bargaining table, Trump might want to take this and call it a win.

UPDATE: The president, asked about the deal by Bloomberg News, said, "we're very happy with it."  So it looks like it's getting passed and signed.

And by the way, I forgot to mention a few things, and have been reminded by Politico:
  • Funding for the arts was preserved at current levels.
  • Language was included in the bill, as with previous budgets, that would stop Attorney-General Sessions from enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.
  • Billions of dollars in defense spending won't be released until Trump presents an actual plan to fight ISIS.  A plan is also demanded for dealing with the Assad regime.  And the bill repeatedly asserts that no further expansion of existing conflicts (like Iraq) is permitted without authorization by Congress.  This is excellent.
Wow.  I know the expectation from the White House is that they will negotiate and win money for all of their priorities in five months, when this bill runs out... but it's hard to see how such a comprehensive loss makes victory easier in the future.

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