We have a deal – sort of.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) – who have been leading a new round of budget negotiations – have announced that they reached agreement on federal government spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2014 as well as FY 2015. Given Congress’s propensity toward last-minute bargains in recent years, you may be a bit surprised that the announcement from Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan came a couple of days before their self-imposed deadline of December 13, and just over a month before current FY 2014 funding runs out on January 15. But there remains a lot more work to be done to ensure that we don’t face another government shutdown in January – and to make sure low-income women and their families are protected and unemployed workers aren’t left behind.
So what does the deal do? In short:
And what doesn’t the deal do?
- First and foremost, it does not extend federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for long-term unemployed workers – meaning 1.3 million jobless Americans are still facing an immediate cutoff of their benefits in less than three weeks.
- The exclusion of UI benefits is especially galling in light of another thing the deal did not do: raise one penny of tax revenue from closing loopholes that benefit wealthy corporations. House Republican leadership refused to consider taxes as a source of revenue, choosing to maintain wasteful provisions that, for example, incentivize companies to move jobs and profits offshore, while asking federal employees and veterans to bear much of the cost of deficit reduction. Yet even without new tax revenue, the $22 billion that the budget deal proposes to dedicate to deficit reduction is nearly enough to instead cover a one-year extension of the federal UI program. With long-term unemployment remaining at historic highs and federal deficits already falling to manageable levels, this choice is indefensible.
- The deal also does not set funding levels for specific programs; that job is left to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees. It is vitally important that appropriators work to restore funding for programs that vulnerable women and their families depend on, like Head Start, child care, Meals on Wheels, and housing and energy assistance programs.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that this deal is not yet law. While it represents some progress toward blunting the impact of the sequester, this budget battle won’t be over until Congress approves a final bill that ensures programs for low-income Americans and benefits for long-term unemployed workers are protected.