House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) announced Tuesday afternoon that they’d reached an agreement on FY 2014 and FY 2015 budget numbers that would avert sequester levels by providing about $63 billion of cap relief over both years. That sequester relief includes $22 billion for non-defense discretionary spending in FY 2014 and $19 billion in FY 2015, meaning that appropriators will have some additional room to provide funding for federal science agencies like NSF, NIH, NIST and DOE, should they choose to.
The agreement, assuming it’s adopted by both chambers (not a slam dunk, but a decent bet), would avert a shutdown in January and allow appropriators to move forward with an omnibus appropriations bill for most of the outstanding FY14 appropriations, something they have indicated they’ll do with 12 of the 14 bills in the second week of January. Maybe more importantly, the agreement sets the caps for FY15 as well, allowing appropriators to begin work on FY15 bills on schedule, knowing the House and Senate are working from the same set of numbers for the first time in many years, and with a reasonable expectation that they might actually get some of the bills done in regular order — something they haven’t done in, well, probably a decade or more.
There’s enough to hate in the agreement for both parties, which is a pretty good indication that it’s a decent compromise, and leadership on both sides believes they have the votes to pass it. Both Ryan and Murray spoke about the agreement as being an essential piece of Congress reasserting its power of the purse, something it had abdicated to the Administration with the sequester deal (where the Administration got to make the decisions about how the cuts fell on programs at agencies), and both emphasized that it was an important step in changing the crisis-to-crisis mode of legislating that Congress has adopted of late. Let’s hope that’s true on both counts.
Anyway, some good news about budget after many, many months/years of frustrating developments. We’re nowhere near out of the brutal budget climate that has pervaded for the last few years, but perhaps there’s a small bit of sanity that’s beginning to emerge. If so, we’ll have all the details!