Saturday 24 March 2018

Congress on track to pass US budget deal

President Barack Obama negotiated the deal with Republican and Democratic leaders (AP)
President Barack Obama negotiated the deal with Republican and Democratic leaders (AP)

An ambitious US budget and debt deal cleared a major hurdle in the Senate, setting the stage for Congress to pass the measure and send it to President Barack Obama.

The Senate voted 63-35, gaining the 60 votes necessary to end any delaying tactics.

Several Republican presidential candidates had criticised the legislation, which is aimed at averting a catastrophic default, avoiding a partial shutdown and setting government spending priorities for two years.

Mr Obama negotiated the accord with Republican and Democratic leaders who were intent on steering Congress away from the brinkmanship and shutdown threats that have haunted politicians for years.

Former speaker John Boehner felt a particular urgency days before leaving Congress, while politicians looked ahead to presidential and congressional elections next year.

The opposition was strong in the Senate, and White House hopeful Rand Paul, a Republican senator, left the campaign trail and returned to the Capitol to criticise the deal as excessive Washington spending.

Mr Paul complained: "We're saying here: 'Mr. President, you can raise the debt as much as you want. You can spend as much as you want, and we're going to do nothing. In fact, we're going to help you.'"

Another Republican presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz, cancelled campaign events in Nevada to return to Washington for the votes.

Speaking on the Senate floor, he said the Republican majorities had given Mr Obama a "diamond-encrusted, glow-in-the-dark Amex card" for government spending.

"It's a pretty nifty card," Mr Cruz said. "You don't have to pay for it, you get to spend it and it's somebody else's problem."

The agreement would raise the government debt ceiling until March 2017, removing the threat of an unprecedented national default just days from now.

A t the same time, it would set the budget of the government through the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years and ease punishing spending caps by providing 80 billion dollars (£52 billion) more for military and domestic programmes.

This will be paid for by a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases touching areas from tax compliance to spectrum auctions.

The deal would also avert a looming shortfall in the social security disability trust fund that threatened to slash benefits, and head off an unprecedented increase in Medicare premiums for outpatient care for about 15 million beneficiaries.

The promise of more money for the military ensured support from defence hawks like Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, while additional funds for domestic programmes pleased Democrats.

Press Association

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