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Providing Budget Certainty

November 2, 2015
Weekly Columns

As long as President Obama is in office and Republicans control Congress, the nation will remain in an era of divided government. Given our system of checks and balances, true negotiation must take place and real compromise must be reached to govern effectively. And like I’ve said on numerous occasions, neither side can ever get all that it wants in a negotiation. In fact, in a true negotiation you’ll always get less than you want and give up more than you’d like. 

That’s exactly what was observed between Congress and the Administration last week with the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015. Passed through both chambers and expected to be signed into law by the president, the bill sets spending limits for the next two fiscal years, invests in the nation’s military, reforms some entitlement spending and raises the debt ceiling. While it was by no means considered perfect to members on either side of the aisle, I believe its passage was far better than the alternative of doing nothing at all, which would have been disastrous to our country. 

Similar to the Ryan-Murray budget agreement that was negotiated in 2013, the legislation brings much-needed certainty to the budgeting and appropriations process. By setting spending limits for the next two years, it empowers lawmakers to draft, consider and pass appropriations bills to keep the government funded and operational. In the midst of mounting crises overseas, I am pleased that the budget arrangement also enables a robust military to confront threats to our national security wherever they arise through a boost to defense spending. 

Especially during the last several weeks, concerns have been rapidly growing about the nation’s expiring debt ceiling. Never in our country’s history have we exceeded our borrowing limit and been unable to pay our bills and creditors. If nothing had been done to adjust the ceiling, there would have been catastrophic consequences felt by every American immediately and severely. The first missed payment would lead to default, causing Social Security checks to be delayed, military to not be paid, financial markets to tank and banks to reduce lending. 

Certainly, I would have preferred not to lift the debt ceiling or the spending limits. But I am encouraged that the president agreed to some entitlement reform in exchange for it, rather than his usual demand for a “clean increase” or higher taxes. Specifically, the compromise agreement reforms and funds the Social Security Disability Fund to save it from bankruptcy and prevents a crippling increase in the premiums paid by many people who receive Medicare Part B. As the Congressional Budget Office confirms, the savings from these mandatory reforms offset the higher spending allocations. That means the increase in discretionary spending is fully paid for by mandatory savings. 

There are plenty of reasons, if considered alone, to oppose the legislation. But at the end of the day, I voted for the bill because lawmakers were elected to govern, and this is the bill that could pass in the current polarized political environment. Most importantly, it safeguards the country from default, makes incremental reforms to the drivers of our debt, invests in our military and prevents a government shutdown. Despite its shortcomings, I am encouraged that the compromise budget moves us in the right direction and addresses our nation’s critical funding priorities. In the days ahead, I am hopeful that we can continue to confront the long-term debt crisis through similar changes to the true drivers of our debt, entitlement spending.