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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Week Ahead in Congress: Senate faces year-end deadline on budget, defense bill

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Congress,The Pentagon,Senate,Harry Reid,National Security,PennAve,Tim Mak,Defense Spending,Budgets and Deficits

The House has already left town for the holiday recess, and so all eyes will turn this week to the Senate, which must pass a budget compromise and other critical legislation before leaving town as well.

Budget bill

The biggest item on the Senate's agenda is a contentious budget compromise needed to avoid a second government shutdown in mid-January.

The budget bill will dampen the impact of budget cuts known as sequestration, largely by raising government user fees. Conservatives derided those fee hikes as tax increases, but the Republican-run House easily approved the deal, 332 to 94, before leaving town Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Sunday filed a procedural motion to end debate on the budget bill, setting the stage for a vote on Tuesday and final passage by week's end.

The most serious challenge to the budget bill comes from conservative Republicans, who object to the suspension of sequester-driven spending cuts. The compromise raised spending levels to about $1 trillion a year for two years, reflecting Democrats' call to protect domestic programs and Republicans' desire to insulate the Pentagon from deep reductions.

Heritage Action and other outside conservative groups, the force behind the Obamacare defunding effort that led to a government shutdown in October, denounced the compromise.

“By increasing spending, increasing fees and offering up another round of promises waiting to be broken, the deal represents a step backwards,” Heritage Action said in a statement.

Ryan defended the compromise, saying that a second government shutdown in mid-January, when the current budget bill expires, could be devastating for Republicans.

“Government has to function, and we saw the specter of two possible government shutdowns in 2014 ... I don't think that's good for anybody, that's not good for the country,” Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

National Defense Authorization Act

The Pentagon’s annual policy legislation has been passed by both houses and signed by the president for 51 years in a row, a streak threatened this year when the Senate was unable to agree on how to proceed with amendments to the bill. With the Senate in gridlock, the House and Senate Armed Services committees hashed out a compromise that overwhelmingly passed the House last week by a vote of 350 to 69.

It’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: The Senate will not have an opportunity to amend the defense bill. It can only vote it up or down.

To craft a compromise that could pass both chambers quickly, lawmakers cut some of the more contentious provisions from the bill. Among the issues set aside was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal for sexual assault reform, which won't be taken up until sometime next year.

Some senators have grumbled about the ban on amendments, but Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the chamber has to approve the same bill approved by the House to finish it and take credit for passing a defense policy bill for the 52nd straight year.

Nominations

Since Senate Democrats changed the chamber's rules to limit minority-party power to block presidential nominations, lawmakers are moving swiftly to clear a backlog of President Obama's administrative and judicial nominees.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nominations of Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Anne Patterson as assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

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