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May 4, 2015

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The Policy Racket

Negotiators reach accord, keep government from shutting down

No brinksmanship this time: ‘I think it’s just time to legislate,’ says Boehner

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Sen. Harry Reid

WASHINGTON — Barely 24 hours before federal funding was set to run out and shut down the government, lawmakers resolved their remaining differences, saving federal employees from being furloughed right before the holidays and implementing cuts Congress agreed to this summer.

Experiencing a sense of deja vu? So were most lawmakers, who have been to the brink least three times in the last year. But this time, matters seemed destined for resolution: where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, spent the last few government shutdown fights slinging mud right to the deadline, they were speaking in the dulcet tones of cooperative dealmaking throughout Thursday.

"There's no need to shut down the government," Boehner said at a news conference Thursday. "I think everyone just needs to step back and take a deep breath. There's an easy way to untangle all of this...No more show votes, I think it's just time to legislate."

"We've done enough back-and-forth," Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. "We have a few issues that are still outstanding but they're really small in number."

It would take the rest of the day before House and Senate appropriators could ink a deal, and each side would have to sacrifice a few pet projects along the way. But Congress is now poised to pass, in bipartisan fashion, a bill to keep the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year before tomorrow's midnight deadline.

That's right: a whole 9 1/2 months with no threat of a government shutdown.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the final deal funds 10 Cabinet departments and makes slight reductions to the foreign aid, environmental spending, and Pentagon budgets, but not veterans' affairs. Even under the spending caps, the VA comes away with a slight boost in funding levels - likely a nod to the returning soldiers from Iraq, where combat operations officially ended Thursday. The Securities and Exchange Commission also gets a healthy budget increase - 10 percent - which is in keeping with its expanded functions: The SEC has to enforce many of the regulations that were adopted under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill last year.

Some changes were reminiscent of fights in previous shutdown showdowns. For instance, Pell grants were preserved in size (maximum: $5,500) but not number - recipients won't be eligible for as many semesters of aid, and the income threshold for maximum eligibility was lowered. Meanwhile most policy riders - such as a rollback of EPA rules or defunding Planned Parenthood - failed to make the final cut, as they have before.

But the two items that got lawmakers over the hump were light bulbs and Cubans.

According to the AP, Republicans dropped their demand for restrictions on people who visit or send remittances to relatives in Cuba, and Democrats gave up on an effort to pass energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.

All told, the deal is worth $1 trillion.

The deal was an example of history avoiding an unwelcome repeat.

On this day in 1995, a little over a year after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in a midterm election, the Republican speaker of the House and the Democratic president reached an impasse over funding the federal government and it shut down for 21 days.

Republicans repeated much of that history in 2010. But whether it was the holiday or a sense of combat fatigue on the day the nation ended its combat presence in Iraq, lawmakers were more keen on compromise this time.

That doesn't, however, mean that after the Senate and House vote Friday, everyone can pack up and go home: There's still the matter of the payroll tax to settle. Boehner joined Reid Thursday in pledging to call the House back to vote on payroll tax legislation, to ensure that workers would not be socked with what averages out to about a $1,000 tax increase right after the holidays. Senate leaders warned lawmakers to be prepared to work the weekend Thursday; Reid already set up one concrete vote Saturday morning on the House's version of the payroll tax bill, one Nevada Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei supported, but which Rep. Shelley Berkley derided for starting to pare back unemployment benefits.

It's not expected to pass. But at least with the budget done, the lights in the Capitol will stay on as they slug this next issue out.

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  1. It's CYA time for the party of no. Now they can go home for the holidays and show their constituents that they really do have their best interests at heart. Too late. Expect to see the Dems retake the House and maintain control of the Senate in 2012. The out of touch GOP candidates for president will continue their dogfight for the nomination and the eventual winner will lose in the general election.

  2. "Experiencing a sense of deja vu? So were most lawmakers, who have been to the brink least three times in the last year."

    I guess I need to point out the fact that the reason these three brinksmanship needless political debacles happened, along with the downgrading of America's credit rating, along with other incredible lamebrain political decisions, all center around Tea/Republican Party dogmatic extremism and a radical vision of America that most sane people who live here cannot and will not stomach.

    I mean, c'mon? When you throw crap in bills, stuff it with "riders" and pay more attention to rhetoric and trying to decapitate the President of the United States simply because he's a successful Democrat, it just shows the Tea/Republican Party is not a valid political source anymore. They range somewhere between being a cult all the way to an overblown protest movement. It's clear the path they always choose if confrontation, and basically have declared the word "compromise" is a swear word and should not be used in any of their discussions, nor as a tool to get anything done.

    You have got to be kidding me when a bill is stuffed with crap like mailing letters to Cuba and squiggly pig tail looking light bulbs. But in the meantime, people are getting poorer, more and more jobs are being taken away, unemployment insurance is negated, people out on the streets, but Tea/Republicans are only concerned about if their filthy rich benefactors are able to hoarde more and more money.

    That clearly shows they don't intend anything to get done or solved, just obstruct and get in the way, but at the same time while they are doing that, they jump up and down and scream, look!, it's them, not us, THEM!, those guys over there, they even look at people funny, look, they're islamo communist socialists that read from teleprompters, then they turn and look over at the filthy rich and ask there, how am I doing?, was that good enough for you?

    It's absurd how the Tea/Republican Party has bastardized and made a mockery of our democracy. They have lost their minds and let Fox PORNO (Political Organization-Republican News Only) News choose their candidate for President and basically willingly have policy dictated to them by the noted scholarly historian and political guru Rush Limbaugh.

    Bring on the 2012 elections. I can't wait. I'm voting all of them predators out of power.

  3. I agree with Colin from Las Vegas. Our lawmakers just don't seem to have a clue..As I watched the debate last evening I thought "How long would I take someone to lunch that never picked up the tab, yet I was paying his salary?" Ron Paul is just that man, the "no" voter on every piece of legislation, but fights to get money back to his district. WHAT A SYSTEM WE HAVE, AND LIKE MANY THINGS THAT START OUT GOOD, THEY TURN COMPLETELY BAD..AND ARE BROKEN.

  4. Heck, I'm just pleased we're seeing compromise and cooperation lately instead of brinksmanship. I hope it continues.