Lead budget negotiators in the House and Senate announced an $85 billion spending deal Tuesday night, marking a clear departure from the bitter partisan brinkmanship that has enveloped Congress this year.
"I am very proud to stand here today with Chairman Ryan to announce we have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock and reached a bipartisan budget compromise that will prevent a government shutdown in January," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Tuesday evening as she stood side by side with House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan and Murray unveiled the narrow two-year budget agreement before beginning the hard work of convincing members of their respective parties to support it. If they can convince fellow Republicans and Democrats to vote for the bill, the deal will keep the country from lurching from one budget crisis to another next year. Murray and Ryan appeared united even as Murray joked that her colleague was a "tough negotiator."
The budget plan would reduce the federal deficit by approximately $23 billion over the next two years while also increasing the 2014 and 2015 spending levels to just more than $1 trillion. The number is a slight increase from the $967 billion annual spending allocated under the Budget Control Act.
The proposal also would replace $63 billion in automatic spending cuts through a series of other spending reductions and fee increases, such as a higher consumer airline fee and an uptick in the amount federal employees are expected to contribute to their federal pensions. The bill could be the first compromise budget bill to emerge from a "divided Congress" since 1986, Ryan said Tuesday.
The deal will require both Republicans and Democrats to make concessions on their parties' key principles. Republicans will have to agree to increase overall spending levels, while Democrats must accept a deal that does not include an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
Democrats also will have to deal with the reality that the bipartisan agreement does not include the closing of a single corporate tax loophole, while Republicans cope with the fact that the deal does not include major reforms to entitlement programs like Medicaid or Social Security.
"This deal doesn't solve all of our problems, but I think it is an important step in helping to heal some of the wounds here in Congress," Murray said. "[Ryan] and I do have some major differences. We cheer for a different football team, clearly. We catch different fish. We have some differences on policy, but we agree our country needs some certainty."
Already, the budget deal has faced partisan pushback. Conservative campaign groups Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity trashed the deal Tuesday afternoon, calling it a step backward for Republicans who they say won in 2011 with passage of the Budget Control Act, which put the country on a path to reduce federal spending by roughly $2 trillion over the next decade.
Pressure from outside groups also could put Ryan on a collision course with many conservative allies he has negotiated with in the past. The congressman, who is frequently mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender, said he welcomed the opportunity to solve problems, not pass a conservative wish list.
"As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way that I want them to be," Ryan said. "We are in divided government. I realize I am not going to get [my way]. I am not going to go a mile in the direction I want to, but I can take a few steps in the right direction."
The House will vote on the compromise bill before members leave town for the holiday break later this week, and the bill then will move to the Senate.
Ryan expressed optimism the legislation could sail through the House, where he said leaders and committee chairmen have been fully briefed on the framework of the deal. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled his support for the deal Tuesday in a statement.