President Obama’s parting gift to Speaker Boehner – a ‘grand bargain’ to clean out the barn?


Barn“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” John Boehner, the soon-to-depart Speaker of the House, told CBS News’ John Dickerson in September. “I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there.” Mr. Boehner, Clean Up This Barn.

Word comes today that there may indeed be a “grand bargain” between the White House and Congressional leaders to “clean the barn” out of Tea-Publican hostage taking threats to shut down the federal government.

Roll Call reports Big Budget Deal Could Clean Out Boehner’s Barn:

Speaker John A. Boehner’s effort to “clean the barn” before leaving Congress is gaining momentum, with the four corners of congressional leadership and the White House hoping for a budget and debt limit deal.

The Republican from Ohio does not want to leave a crisis behind for Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who is expected to be elected as the new speaker on Thursday.

Under discussion is a deal that would suspend limits on the nation’s borrowing authority until March 2017, along with two years worth of partial relief from the budget caps known as sequestration. The package would also address the Medicare Part B issue, aimed at protecting millions of seniors from significant increases to their health insurance premiums and deductibles.

An agreement could be announced as early as Monday evening, according to two familiar with the talks. The House Republican Conference scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. to discuss the “October agenda,” according to a GOP aide.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters there was no agreement yet, repeating a familiar line from past bipartisan budgetary debates that, “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Earnest took a hard stance on the White House’s long-held preference that any spending deal avoid boosting Pentagon spending — either in full or in part — by merely inflating its war account known officially as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. That controversial account is not subject to spending caps, and the White House believes using it in any long-term plan would be an unwise budget “gimmick,” he added, dubbing the practice the “OCO loophole.”

White House officials for months have said they would not negotiate a debt-ceiling hike, saying the president would only support a “clean” measure to raise it. Earnest batted away a reporter’s question about whether attaching a debt ceiling increase to a long-term budget bill would break the White House’s pledge.

It “can sometimes be a useful strategy to” attach a debt ceiling-raising measure to some other major legislation that “we know will pass” both chambers and garner the president’s signature, Earnest said, ticking off a list of such instances under several recent presidents.

A House leadership source said the deal in the works is the outcome of bipartisan sequester negotiations that began on Sept. 17.

While congressional sources and the White House said the developing agreement could change or fall apart, there was hope for an announcement Monday evening on a debt limit increase that would carry past the 2016 elections and also provide some budget certainty, perhaps for the two years envisioned by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

For the Kentucky Republican, it’s all part of an effort to show that his party can be a functional governing majority ahead of the 2016 election cycle in which GOP incumbents face unfavorable conditions.

Getting budget numbers in place this week would give a window for House and Senate appropriators to attempt to write a catch-all spending bill ahead of Dec. 11, when the continuing resolution that is temporarily funding the government is set to expire.

The Hill reports, White House, GOP strike two-year budget deal:

Senior White House officials and congressional leaders are nearing a deal to raise the debt limit and set the federal budget for the next two years, say sources familiar with the talks.

The deal would extend the debt ceiling to March 2017 and bust budget limits set by a 2011 agreement that imposed a decade of spending ceilings known as sequestration on the federal government.

It would raise those caps by a total of $112 billion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, according to a person briefed on the agreement.

Those funds would be divided equally between defense and nondefense spending, charting a compromise between Republican defense hawks pushing for more Pentagon spending and Democrats, who wanted more spending on domestic programs as well.

The agreement is not yet final, as congressional leaders still need to secure approval from the Republican and Democratic conferences in both chambers, according to Senate and House sources.

If approved, the deal would provide a fresh start for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is expected to be elected Speaker later this week and has not taken part in these budget negotiations, aides said. Outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he wants to “clean the barn up a little bit” to make life easier for his successor.

It would also ensure Congress would not have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown or default before the 2016 elections, a goal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Yet getting a deal through the House and Senate could be an enormous challenge.

Raising the debt ceiling by itself is political poison for many Republicans, who have argued for deep spending cuts to be linked to any hike in the nation’s borrowing limit. Instead, the emerging deal would break the sequester and increase spending.

Democrats likely will be expected to bring many votes to the package, but that could also be in doubt because of the budgetary offsets used to pay for the increased spending.

Those offsets include cuts to Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, according to The New York Times, White House and Congress Said to Be Near Budget Deal:

While congressional aides cautioned that the deal was not yet clinched, officials briefed on the negotiations said the emerging accord would increase spending by $80 billion, not including emergency war funding, over two years above the previously agreed-upon budget caps.

Those increases would be offset by cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, as well as savings or revenue from an array of other programs, including changes to the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves.

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Aides said that the Social Security Disability Insurance program would be amended so that a medical exam now required in 30 states before applicants could qualify for benefits would be required in all 50 states. That change was projected to save the government $5 billion.

The emerging deal would also reallocate funds among Social Security program trust funds to ensure solvency of the disability insurance program. Such reallocations have occurred regularly over the decades but Republicans had opposed any new reallocation without changes to reduce costs of the program.

The prospective agreement would also prevent expected increases in out-of-pocket costs for millions of Medicare Part B beneficiaries. The increases would have been caused by the rare absence of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security for some beneficiaries, because of unusually low inflation.

Democrats speaking about the emerging deal on Monday tread carefully with their public comments.

“As I have been saying for years, it is past time that we do away with the harmful, draconian sequester cuts,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who did not mention any offsets used in the package. “We must also ensure that there are equal defense and non-defense increases,” he added.

The White House also took a cautious approach on a deal that lawmakers in both parties were still learning about Monday night.

“Not everything has been agreed to. That means nothing has been agreed to,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “We continue to urge Republicans to engage constructively with Democrats to find common ground and do the right thing for the country.”

McConnell plans to present the deal at a special meeting of Senate Republicans scheduled for Monday evening after a vote on a judicial nomination.

House GOP leaders will hold a special conference meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the pending agreement, aides said.

The deal would increase spending caps for defense and non-defense programs by $25 billion each in fiscal year 2016, according to a source briefed on the package. It would then boost defense and non-defense discretionary accounts by $15 billion each in fiscal year 2017.

Another $32 billion — spread of over two years — would be provided for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund used to fight the war against ISIS and operations in Afghanistan.

One source familiar with the deal said the OCO funds were not offset, while the other $80 billion was paid for with separate budgetary moves.

Reaching an accord on the top-line budget numbers will allow the leaders of the appropriations committees in both chambers to put together an omnibus spending package before Christmas.

Tying the spending deal — which includes reforms to mandatory spending programs — to the debt-ceiling measure allows Republicans to argue that they won some concessions in return for extending the nation’s borrowing authority. Democrats have long insisted they will not negotiate over the debt limit.

The Treasury Department has set a Nov. 3 deadline for raising the nation’s $18.1 trillion debt limit. Lawmakers also face a Dec. 11 deadline to fund the government.

The budget talks have also been linked to a long-term highway funding bill and a measure to renew the Export-Import Bank, but congressional leadership sources said those measures are not part of the final deal.

One leadership aide said the package would not prevent federal funding for Planned Parenthood, something sought by Republicans.

The source said the final deal did include language to prevent double-digit premium hikes that would hit 8 million Medicare enrollees in 2016.

Averting the 52 percent premium increases has been a priority for Pelosi and could help win Democratic support for the package.

She began talks on the topic with Boehner in mid-September. Staving off the increases is expected to cost about $7.5 billion, and Democratic aides have said Pelosi’s office was quietly negotiating with Boehner on the offsets.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said Boehner and Obama had been laying the groundwork for a possible deal for months.

“I think that there’s work that has gone on for several months on this so it just culminated before it had to happen,” he said.

There are lots of moving parts to this deal, and there is a question whether the votes are there for a “grand bargain,” assuming that a final deal can be reached. There is no agreement until there is an agreement. Stay tuned.


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