Most are likely to greet the news of a two-year federal budget deal with more relief than satisfaction that at least we won’t have to see that particular can kicked down the road for a while.
Following the second — although only hours long — government shutdown in less than two months and a string of continuing resolutions, Congress agreed to a budget deal, brokered by Senate leaders and ratified by the House, that ended the long deadlock on the budget by giving Republicans the military spending increase they sought and the boost in domestic spending that Democrats wanted, ending nearly a decade of spending caps and austerity for both.
Neither the programs funded, nor their impact on budget deficits will be insignificant.
Supporters of either can make their case for the new spending, though a build-up this quick calls for a close eye — and audits — on where the money goes. Defense projects in particular have generated legendary black holes.
The deal pumps more than $500 billion over the next two years into domestic and military spending above current levels, The Washington Post reported. The Pentagon’s 10 percent increase in funding will deliver $700 billion this year and another $716 billion next year. Nondefense spending will also see about a 10 percent increase to $591 billion this year and $605 billion the following year.
Pentagon officials had argued that some six years of sequestration — budget caps — had cut into military readiness. The budget increases the size of all four branches, provides pay raises, increased training, beefed-up cyber security and also invests in some hefty acquisition of aircraft, ships, submarines, vehicles and technology.
Nor is it difficult to argue the need for domestic spending. Among the those provisions are:
About $90 billion in disaster relief funding following last year’s hurricanes and wildfires, including $16 billion for Puerto Rico.
Some $7 billion for funding for a two-year reauthorization of the nation’s Community Health Centers.
And $6 billion for the national response to the opioid and mental health crises and $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health.
About $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program.
An additional four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, past the six years that were approved in the last continuing resolution. (CHIP provides health coverage for about 25,500 children in the state, and 3,000 in Snohomish County.)
About $20 billion in infrastructure spending, including highways, water and sewage systems and rural broadband.
About $4 billion in college financial aid programs.
And continued funding for Medicare and Medicaid, which had been threatened with cuts.
Even with a pot sweetened for both parties, the budget deal split Washington’s congressional delegation, and not on a party-line vote. The state’s Democratic senators split with Sen. Patty Murray voting for the budget and Sen. Maria Cantwell against. The region’s 1st and 2nd Congressional District members, Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen each voted for the deal, with the remaining delegation voting yes except Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse and Democratic Reps. Pramilia Jayapal and Adam Smith.
The budget deal left two groups neither satisfied nor relieved: deficit hawks and Dreamers.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan advocacy group, forecasts that the U.S. by next year will have a $1 trillion budget deficit under the combination of the budget deal and the tax cuts package passed by Republicans at the end of last year. And assuming tax cuts for the middle class, set to expire within the decade, are instead extended, the annual deficits will top $2 trillion by 2027. Currently, the national debt totals nearly $20.5 trillion.
Considering the real needs for defense and domestic spending that Congress acknowledged early Friday morning, it raises fresh doubt about the extent of tax cuts that were handed out in December.
Some of the Democratic opposition to the budget was based on Congress’ inability thus far to address a solution for Dreamers, some 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to America as children by family, almost all who have built successful lives in the U.S. That number includes about 800,000 who have protection and job permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Obama.
President Trump rescinded DACA and set a March 5 deadline for Congress to act regarding protections for those enrolled in DACA and other Dreamers yet to enroll. Some Democrats had hoped to use budget negotiations as leverage to get a deal. The most that has been secured now is a pledge from Republican leaders in the Senate and House to begin talks on DACA and larger immigration issues.
Congress has stopped kicking the budget can down the road, but replaced it with two other cans. The road is a very short kick for Dreamers. On deficits, the path is growing increasingly steep.