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Budget Battle Has Just Begun, Political Watchers Say

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While the Senate on Tuesday passed the budget agreement for fiscal year 2016 that the House passed last week, which marked the first time in six years that Congress has agreed on a budget blueprint, political watchers say the tough work on getting bipartisan concessions to solidify a deal has just begun.

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, notes that while the House and Senate agreeing to a budget conference blueprint “represents a critical first step forward in restoring regular legislative order,” it was adopted on a party-line vote.  

The “goals” outlined in the adopted resolution, “reducing the nation’s debt and balancing the federal budget,” Hoagland said, “cannot be achieved without a roadmap for bipartisan support.”

The budget resolution, he continued, “sets aspirational goals for what Republicans in Congress think the budget ought to look like. But implementing it depends on two subsequent actions—how appropriations bills are structured and whether the reconciliation instructions can actually achieve the reduced entitlement spending that the blueprint assumes.”

Indeed, political strategist Andy Friedman of The Washington Update told ThinkAdvisor in an email message that the “major battle” over the budget will happen in September, as Congress will turn to hashing it out after its August recess.

“The Republicans will reach agreement on some budget, but the rubber doesn’t meet the road until the president has to sign an appropriations bill this fall,” Friedman said. Obama “has said he will not accept additional defense spending without a corresponding increase in spending on domestic programs. Getting there will be tough.”

Friedman added that the government has to be funded by Sept 30, and the debt ceiling must be raised around then as well. “It looks like there will be a short patch for highway funding to push that deadline to Sept 30 as well. Not to mention a desire to undertake corporate tax reform, in part to find funding” for the highways and for tax extenders.

Hoagland noted that “a significant gap exists between the domestic discretionary spending levels proposed in the president’s budget, and the sequester-level funding in the conference agreement that Democrats strongly oppose,” which foreshadows a “difficult appropriations process, and along with other ‘must dos,’ like tax extenders and the federal debt limit, signals that Congress could be heading into another prolonged gridlock over fiscal policy.”

The budget resolution kept in place all the across-the-board sequester cuts.

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