WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The modest $85 billion U.S. budget deal reached in Congress on Tuesday gives both Democrats and Republicans something to brag about.
Republicans can say they did not increase taxes and found additional ways to reduce the deficit. Democrats can say they found relief from forced spending cuts on education and other domestic spending programs, while avoiding major changes to Medicare and Social Security benefits for the elderly. And both sides can say they helped the military avoid deeper cuts.
But airline travelers, newly hired federal employees and some military retirees would lose out in the agreement to be presented to Congress for approval in the next two weeks.
The deal sets federal spending levels for two years and its proponents argue that it will help Congress end its budget warfare through at least October 1, 2015.
Here are the major components of the tentative agreement negotiated by Republican Representative Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray:
AUTOMATIC “SEQUESTER” SPENDING CUTS
It blunts the effect of these already-enacted across-the-board cuts by allowing spending on federal agencies and discretionary programs to rise by $63 billion over scheduled levels - $45 billion in fiscal 2014, which began on October 1, and $18 billion in fiscal 2015. The spending relief is split evenly between domestic and military programs.
The deal sets discretionary spending levels at $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014, up from the $967 billion level that included the full effect of the automatic, “sequester,” spending cuts approved as part of a temporary budget deal in 2011. Military spending would be set at $520.5 billion, avoiding a $20 billion additional cut in January, while domestic spending would be set at $491.8 billion;
For fiscal 2015, the discretionary spending would be set at about $1.014 trillion, up from $995 billion scheduled under the sequester cuts.
In addition to the $63 billion in sequester relief, the deal will provide an additional $20 billion to $23 billion in deficit reduction spread over 10 years, through a combination of lower government benefits, spending cuts and higher revenues. Ryan told a news conference that he believes the additional savings will help secure Republican support for the plan, overcoming objections by some conservatives that the plan would violate spending caps imposed under the sequester cuts.
The deal finds $12 billion in savings by through changes to retirement programs for federal employees and working age retired military service members. Federal employees hired after January 1 would contribute an additional 1.3 percent of their pay towards their retirement benefits for the first five years of their employment. Scheduled cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees would be reduced, but neither those over age 62 nor those who retired because of injuries or disabilities would be affected.
The deal would increase the airport security fees paid by airlines to the Transportation Security Administration. A summary of the deal did not provide an amount, but airline industry groups were anticipating a doubling of the fee to $5 per ticket, which would provide $10 billion to $11 billion in revenue over a decade.
The sequester cuts, put in place under a 2011 budget deal, are scheduled to end in 2021. But the deal reached on Thursday would extend for two years the portion of the automatic cuts assigned to mandatory spending programs, including portions of the Medicare health care program for the elderly. Extending these cuts to 2022 and 2023 would save $28 billion over 10 years. Ryan touted the provision as a first step in controlling mandatory spending costs.
The deal includes a number of items related to natural resources, including canceling a deep-water resources research program and rescinding funds available in the strategic petroleum reserve. It also reduces certain fees for education loan guarantees, extends customs and border protection user fee collections and raises the premiums that private companies pay the federal government to guarantee their pension benefits.
The deal left out a number of items considered important in the overall budget debate:
* An extension of long-term unemployment benefits due to expire on December 31 for about 1.3 million jobless Americans.
* A plan to stop the scheduled reduction in payments to doctors from the Medicare health care system.
* Increased revenues sought by Democrats from the elimination of certain tax deductions and credits for wealthy individuals and large corporations.
* Major cuts to federal benefit programs sought by Republicans, who cite the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as the major source of long-term budget problems.
* A plan to increase the federal debt limit. An extension of the $16.7 trillion debt limit expires on February 7 and if it is not raised, the United States will likely run the risk of a debt default by the spring of 2014.
Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jackie Frank