Senate to Vote on Budget Agreement
The Senate will vote on Tuesday, December 17, on a budget deal that, if approved, will take away the sting of sequestration for the next two years. NACUBO joined 17 other higher education associations in a letter to members of Congress urging passage of the agreement. The bill passed the House on the evening of Thursday, December 12.
House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) negotiated a budget deal that increases the sequester-set level of $967 billion to $1.012 trillion this year (FY14) and to $1.014 trillion the following year (FY15).
Last week, President Obama called the deal "a good first step" and has indicated that he will sign the legislation if Congress passes it.
"While the bill only partially mitigates the sequester, it allows Congress to conduct appropriations in regular order for the next two years. Very importantly, this bill does not further cut student aid programs to pay for deficit reduction as has repeatedly happened in the last few years," stated 18 higher education associations in the letter sent by ACE on December 12.
However, January 15 still looms as the deadline for final agreement on a specific 2014 budget plan. Should the Senate approve the Murray-Ryan deal, the House and Senate appropriations committees must then set spending priorities for individual programs (for example, NIH, Federal Student Aid, research programs). If able to agree on these appropriations bills (more detailed spending measures), Congress will not need to fall back on simply setting continuing resolutions or triggering across-the-board cuts. Given partisan squabbles and misgivings on both sides of the aisle about the overall deal, the outlook for fast action by appropriators and final votes of approval in each chamber is murky.
Despite the bump in funding over sequestration-mandated levels of spending, budget writers must still exercise restraint in setting 2014 and 2015 programmatic spending lines. Appropriators will be bound by separate caps for defense and domestic discretionary spending established in the Murray-Ryan agreement.
Even with Senate approval tomorrow, FY2014 budget action is far from complete; but it must be finished by January 15, 2014—the date through which the federal government is currently funded.