A Budget Deal Finally Starts to Take Shape

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I’ve deliberately avoided posting about all the dueling proposals and counterproposals in the Great Budget Showdown of 2013 because (a) it’s too damn depressing, and (b) you all know where to find Politico if you want to. However, it now appears that we’re getting close to a deal that might actually make it through the Senate:

The latest proposal would reopen the government at current spending levels until Jan. 15 and extend the federal borrowing limit until early February, according to aides familiar with the talks. Lawmakers also would begin longer-term negotiations on the budget, with the task of reaching an agreement by Dec. 13.

….The proposed agreement’s framework included no major alterations to the 2010 health-care law that Mr. Obama championed and congressional Republicans have tried to curtail.

However, lawmakers appeared to be weighing some minor changes, including new procedures to verify the incomes of some people receiving government subsidies for health-insurance costs. Lawmakers also appeared to be considering delaying for a year a fee of $63 per insured person levied on those who offer policies, including employers, unions and insurance carriers.

The way this fig leaf seems to work is that Republicans get the income verification provision and Democrats get a delay of the “belly button tax.” Since this is a genuine deal, not a demand for Democratic concessions in return for nothing, we can all pretend that it’s a completely independent barnacle that just happens to be attached to the rest of the deal. This means that President Obama can sign it while sticking to his promise not to negotiate anything in return for a debt ceiling increase. Everyone wins!

There are, of course, several reasons to remain cautious:

  • Ted Cruz might decide to filibuster the deal. The odds are probably against it, but you never know.
  • The House might refuse to vote on it.
  • Even if it passes, all it does it set everyone up for (appropriately) a Groundhog Day rerun of the whole mess next year. But then again, maybe not. The evidence this time around has been pretty resounding that the public isn’t on the GOP’s side in this fight, and that might convince a lot of Republican fence-sitters to nip things in the bud if the tea partiers try to start another hopeless war in February. Right now, public irritation with the budget fight probably hasn’t had any real effect on next year’s midterm elections, but if Republicans do it again and again, it might.

So….that’s where we are. Stay tuned.

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