Senate Follows House, Passes Budget Deal

Dec 19, 2013
Originally published on December 19, 2013 12:08 pm
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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Despite some very loud grumbling, both chambers of Congress have approved a two-year federal budget plan. This drops the odds of a federal government shutdown early next year, but it certainly does not end the debate over federal spending.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith is on the line this morning to talk about one figure from the agreement, which suggests the scale of budget fights ahead. And Tamara, what's the figure?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Eight-five billion - dollars, that is. And that is really the size of this budget deal. That's the sum of all the cuts and revenue increases that the two budget negotiators settled on. And it sounds like a big number. And it is. It's about 131 times the size of this week's big Powerball jackpot.

INSKEEP: OK. So that would be a big lottery winning, but not a big part of the budget, actually.

KEITH: Exactly. So, total government spending next year is projected to be about $3.6 trillion. That includes things Congress has to pay for, like Social Security and Medicare, and discretionary spending, things like education programs or the military. So, all this stuff they agreed on works out to about 2 percent of one year's budget. But the kicker is that the savings in this budget are spread out over 10 years.

INSKEEP: OK. So what does this mean, exactly, for the budget deficit, which goes up for a couple of years, but then it's supposed to go down?

KEITH: Well, so, this deal does away with a bunch of the sequester cuts. Those are the across-the-board, automatic spending cuts that a lot of people thought were terrible and dumb. And it replaces them with new, more targeted cuts and fee increases. But while those sequester cuts were over a two-year period, these replacements are spread out over 10 years, and there's this balloon payment at the end. And so a lot of people have called this gimmicky budgeting.

INSKEEP: OK. So, basically, they're going to spend more now, and promise to save more or raise some money later. And what are those spending cuts later, or fee increases later?

KEITH: And they start now, but they're spread out over time.

INSKEEP: Right. Right. OK.

KEITH: It includes things like fees on airport security, small changes to retirement benefits for military retirees. There's already some controversy over that and some talk about replacing it. It's sort of like the change in the bottom of the couch cushions. It's just a bunch of relatively small changes over a decade.

INSKEEP: All right. I'm trying to understand what's going to happen now, Tamara Keith, because I note that a budget agreement, while it's important, doesn't actually allow the government to spend any money. Don't they actually have to pass more bills to get the government operating through January? And aren't there battles still to come for a long time?

KEITH: Yeah. That's sort of the funny thing about budgeting. A budget doesn't actually do what most people think it would do. And so we need these appropriations bills to actually spend the money. There's a deadline of January 15th to get the appropriations bills for this year done, and there's some hope that they will actually succeed at doing that.

After that comes the debt ceiling in February, and there's already a discussion of a fight over that.

INSKEEP: And are lawmakers going to be battling in these appropriations to get spending to different levels than they currently are?

KEITH: Most likely not. These are the numbers, and they're planning to work underneath that top-line number.

INSKEEP: OK. Tamara, thanks as always.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.