Default Averted, But Budget Outlook Still Uncertain
Early on Thursday, October 17, President Obama signed legislation that reopened the federal government; funds the government through January 15, 2014; and lifts the federal debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. Despite efforts to roll back all or portions of the Affordable Care Act, only one provision impacts the comprehensive health care law: The Department of Health and Human Services will be required to set stricter income standards for determining qualification for subsidies. The federal government will operate through January 15 under current sequestration-level budget caps.
On October 16, a budget conference committee was named and tasked with crafting a long-term spending plan by December 13, 2013. In addition to trying to negotiate a $91 billion difference between the Senate and House versions of the FY14 budget, the committee may also negotiate changes in long-term tax policies and entitlement programs as a part of deficit reduction efforts.
In 2011, a special Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or "supercommittee," was unable to agree how to slash the federal deficit. The supercommittee failure set up the default action of automatic spending cuts under sequestration. Since then, some bipartisan coalitions have continued to press for "going big"—they have called for plans to reduce the deficit by at least $4 trillion over the next decade by ending budget sequestration while, at the same time, enacting entitlement and tax reforms that would produce spending savings and additional revenues. Without altering current sequestration policy, budgets for domestic discretionary programs, including student aid programs and research accounts, could face steady cuts for nearly a decade.
The House Republican conferees are: Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI), Vice Chairman Tom Price (GA), and members Tom Cole (OK) and Diane Black (TN).
House Democratic conferees are: Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (MD), Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (GA), and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY).
Chairman Ryan and Reps. Price and Black also are members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Senate Democratic conferees are: Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (WA) and Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Mark Warner (VA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Christopher Coons (DE), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Tim Kaine (VA), and Angus King (I-ME).
Senate Republican conferees are: Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (AL) and Sens. Charles Grassley (IA), Michael Enzi (WY), Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsay Graham (SC), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Roger Wicker (MS).
All of the Senate conferees are members of the Senate Budget Committee. Sens. Wyden, Nelson, Stabenow, Grassley, Enzi, Crapo, Portman, and Toomey also serve on the Senate Finance Committee.