Budget Deadline Nears – How Will Lawmakers Tackle Sequestration and the 2014 Budget?

Sens. Durbin, Reid and Murray

At right, Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray/ Photo by Talk Radio News Service

Remember the outrageous 16-day government shutdown? Congress ended it by establishing deadlines for passing a budget, and the first of those deadlines is fast approaching. By Dec. 13 lawmakers are supposed to agree on a budget resolution to set overall spending levels for fiscal 2014.

Sequestration and a Budget Deal

Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and her House counterpart Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., are focused on reducing the across-the-board sequestration cuts – which are currently slated to total $109 billion in reductions to domestic and military programs in fiscal 2014 –  in order to fulfill their primary task of agreeing on an overall level of discretionary spending for this year's budget.

Part of the sticking point is how they’d offset the cost of doing so, since some lawmakers believe the cuts should not simply be cancelled. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan are considering paying for a reduction in the cuts with higher airport security fees, changes in retirement programs for federal employees, and revenue from auctioning part of the broadband spectrum. But these are small-scale changes that would simply lessen the overall impact of sequestration on programs ranging from work-study for college students to early-childhood education to clean water infrastructure, to name just a few. In other words, at least some level of cuts would likely remain in place in 2014.

New tax revenue is not expected to be part of a deal. Republicans maintain a position of rejecting any increase in taxes, while Democrats have called for closing tax loopholes that benefit wealthy taxpayers and corporations.

Still a Long Shot

Lawmakers still appear far from an agreement, and the clock is ticking on days left in the legislative calendar. If Congress passes a 2014 spending plan it will be the first such agreement in two years, when Congress passed a 2012 budget. In fact, the government is still operating on an extension of those funding levels from 2012, since lawmakers failed to pass any budget agreement for 2013 and have so far failed to pass anything for fiscal 2014, which began back on Oct. 1.