The budget agreement announced last night offers both progressives and conservatives something to like … and plenty to dislike. (More)

Last night Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced they had reached an agreement on the federal budget for 2014 and 2015. The deal sets discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015 and basically split the difference between the $1.058 trillion requested by the Senate and the $967 billion requested by the House.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein offers more details:

The sequestration relief is evenly divided between defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending. The sequester’s cuts to mandatory spending are unaffected.

The new policies in the deal are split between revenue through fees – travelers will see higher prices on airline tickets and federal workers will have to contribute more to pensions – and spending cuts.

Spending will be $45 billion higher in 2014 than it would’ve been absent the deal.

The deal replaces about half of sequestration’s cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending in 2014. It replaces about a fourth of them in 2015. That means most of sequestration will go into effect in both years.

There are no tax increases, which Republicans flatly rejected. There are no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which Democrats flatly rejected. Defense spending will be lower than pre-sequester budgets, which polls show most Americans wanted. The deal does not extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits, but both Senate and House Democrats say they will try to pass that as a stand-alone bill.

Both conservatives and progressives are upset about parts of the deal, hardly surprising as neither Democrats nor Republicans have enough votes to pass a one-party budget. Senate Democrats can pass the reconciliation agreement on their own, as such bills cannot be filibustered. But the situation in the House is murkier.

Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks have already rejected the deal and Speaker John Boehner will likely need at least some House Democrats’ votes to pass it. On the surface, that suggests Sen. Murray and Democrats should have had a stronger negotiating position. But it wasn’t that simple, as Salon’s Brian Beutler explains:

If a Ryan-Murray deal were the only viable budget vehicle, then digging in for extending emergency UI benefits as part of said deal would be such an obvious play politically, and on the economic merits, that it’s hard to see Democrats’ reluctance to pick the fight at this juncture as anything other than a testament to their belief that Republicans could act unilaterally and leave them on the hook for shutting down the government.

Given the weak-kneed performance House GOP moderates staged during the shutdown fight – the willingness they demonstrated to allow hard-liners to lead them by the nose – it’s hard to blame Democrats for assuming these guys might not be reliable allies of convenience. And if that assessment is correct, then the two in the bush are unattainable, and Democrats are making the right move.

In short, it’s probably the best deal Democrats could get without risking another government shutdown, one for which Democrats would be blamed. And it may be easier to pass extended unemployment benefits as a stand-alone bill, as that will clarify the issue for the media and voters. Either Republicans vote to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed – as the recovery is gaining traction – or they vote to deny those benefits. But they can’t vote against a stand-alone bill and claim some obscure provision as cover.

I’m not thrilled with the deal, but I didn’t expect to be thrilled by any deal that could pass. That’s the nature of our currently divided government. To get better budgets, we’ll need to turn out enough Democratic voters to hold the Senate and retake the House in 2014.


Happy Tuesday!