Washington D.C. Report: Looking Ahead in 2014

With the budget crisis past, attention turns to other legislation affecting the Super Region, such as immigration and tax reform and the farm bill.

Budget Miracle

Given the rancor surrounding federal spending the last three years, the emergence—seemingly from nowhere—a bipartisan budget was surprising. While there was some opposition, especially from Tea Party loyalists, the plan generally was well received across the nation and in the Super Region.

“While this deal does not include everything I would like to do, it is a step in the right direction and reduces the deficit and does not raise taxes,” Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, said in a statement released immediately after the vote. “We need to stop the destructive cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, and we need to provide certainty to families and businesses across Florida and the country.”

Others in the Super Region were less supportive. Among the budget’s opponents is Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, who said, “The simple fact is that our government spends too much. Our country remains in a crisis of excessive spending. The bipartisan effort put into this budget is admirable, but all of the savings come way down the line.”

Webster joins a host of critics who complain the spending increases occur almost immediately while savings are realized more slowly, across the 10-year life of the budget. Their concern is that future Congresses will further delay or eliminate those savings.

Overall, eight Super Region representatives supported the measure, four voted against it. Joining Ross in voting “yes” were

Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Kathy Castor, Alan Grayson, John Mica, Tom Rooney and Ted Yoho. In addition to Webster, those voting “no” were Reps Ron DeSantis, Richard Nugent and Bill Posey. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, did not cast a vote. She released a statement “tacitly” supporting the budget agreement while criticizing its failure to extend unemployment benefits.

Florida’s senators took opposite stances on the bill. Marco Rubio (R) echoed the “spend now, save later” concerns, telling Fox News: “Well, you know how that works. Over the next couple of years, [Congress] will forget it [the savings], and they’ll keep borrowing more.” Nelson (D) said, “No one will love everything in this agreement. But, we should be able to compromise to get something done for the good of the country.”

The Senate passed the measure, 64-36. Now, both chambers must start working quickly to pass the spending bill to implement the budget.

Negotiated by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., the agreement sets spending for the rest of fiscal year 2014 at $1.012 trillion, halfway between the original House and Senate proposals. It includes $63 billion in sequester relief, split evenly between defense and non-defense spending. (Ross said some of the relief will be targeted for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.)

The plan offsets the sequester relief with $85 billion in cuts across 10 years. Cuts include $1.4 billion in estimated Medicaid savings, halting the payment of unemployment benefits to convicted criminals and better auditing to ensure government payments are not sent to the deceased.

2014 Outlook

The budget agreement likely opened the door for progress on other legislation affecting the Super Region. Here are a few examples:

Immigration Reform

Budget battles have shunted this legislation, once deemed “must pass,” to the sidelines. The Senate bill, championed by Rubio, passed last summer. Lacking the votes to pass a comprehensive bill, House committees have passed a series of individual reform measures that await floor votes. The odds against those bills remain long, but the budget agreement creates breathing room for this and other domestic priorities.

Tax Reform

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has been promising a comprehensive tax reform bill for more than a year, but the government shutdown killed its chances this year. He’ll almost certainly try again in 2014, but is it possible with the midterm elections looming? The case for pessimism: recent congressional history. For optimism: The last major tax reform bill passed in 1986, right before a midterm election.

Farm Bill

Key to Super Region citrus producers and workers struggling to recover from the recession, the budget deal tells congressional negotiators how much they have to spend on the measure. Both chambers passed legislation, but the major sticking point has been Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding. The Senate cut $4 billion from the food stamp program, while the House cut $40 billion. Negotiators are likely to agree on something near $10 billion. Meantime, Congress passed a one-month extension of the 2008 bill.