House Republicans set to vote for bipartisan budget bill

Vote scheduled for 5pm Thursday should allow Senate to pass legislation to ease sequester pressure before Christmas break

House Republicans are preparing to put months of obstructionism temporarily behind them and vote for a bipartisan budget bill that will set federal spending and tax levels for the next two years.

Despite continuing anxiety from both left and right about what has been left out of the fragile compromise deal, GOP leaders have announced a vote at 5pm on Thursday that is now expected to pass, with the help of Democrats. They are also due to debate a national defence authorisation act, which should finally result in an equally limited compromise to fund the military and allow pay increases for US troops.

Although neither spending bill contains the longer-term reforms both parties had hoped for, the prospect of legislation being passed in the final hours before the break for Christmas is in stark contrast to the months of deadlock that recently culminated in a government shutdown.

Ahead of a floor debate on the budget, the freshman congressman Daniel Kildee pointed out that the House had still only passed 56 bills this year – a record low.

“The list of what we have not done is much longer than what we have passed,” said the Michigan Democrat. “This is no way to run this government.”

Democrats are particularly incensed that the House is now likely to break on Friday without agreeing to extend a programme to provide federal benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed that expires at the end of the year – an omission they say represents a “kick in the teeth” to America's most vulnerable.

Congressional dysfunction also showed signs of spreading instead to the Senate, where Democratic majority leader Harry Reid forced a rare overnight session on Wednesday in order to overcome Republican attempts to block White House judicial nominations. Reid's recent decision to abolish the right of minority parties to filibuster such appointments has strained relations in what was previously a the more collegiate of the two chambers.

"The Republicans are wanting to waste more of this body's time, this country's time," said the majority leader ahead of a long night fuelled by Listerine, fruit, chocolate and mints that eventually confirmed Nina Pillard to DC appeals court at 1am.

Paving the way for future agreements?

Nevertheless, passage of the budget and armed services bills through the House on Thursday and Friday should allow the Senate to hold similar votes next week and bring some semblance of normality to government finances. 

Business leaders who have long called for an end to the budget stalemate expressed optimism about the latest news. Louis Chênevert, chairman and chief executive of United Technologies Corporation and chairman of the tax and fiscal policy committee of the Business Roundtable, a lobby group, said: “This budget agreement is significant for every American because it shows that both sides in Congress can work together on the big issues that matter most to getting our economy growing faster and more business investing and hiring with confidence. 

“The agreement provides a foundation for tackling issues critical to US economic growth, as well as providing predictability and certainty for federal government funding for two fiscal years. Without this agreement, American workers, families and businesses would continue to face the risk of an economically damaging government shutdown." 

Chênevert said he hoped the agreement would pave the way for agreements on tax reform, trade and immigration.

Union leaders were less impressed with what has been left out of the deal, but relieved that Democrats had not had to yield more concessions.

“The budget agreement negotiated by Representative [Paul] Ryan and Senator [Patty] Murray provides temporary relief from sequestration budget cuts over the next two years, but does not represent the clean break from budget austerity that our economy so urgently needs,” said a spokesman for the AFL-CIO.

“We applaud Senator Murray for resisting Republican demands to cut Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits and food assistance for people with low incomes. Yet this budget agreement does nothing for the millions of people who remain without work and asks nothing from the people who caused our economic crisis and continue to benefit from economic inequality.”


Dan Roberts in Washington and Dominic Rushe in New York

The GuardianTramp

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