After having what it called a “roller coaster” year that included scandalous details of waiting-list issues and appointment delays that may have led to the death of some veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is declaring that the direction it is headed in 2015 is the right one. In its performance and accountability report […]
In a two-year budget deal designed to show that the two parties can actually get something done, the only guarantee is that no one will be happy. The bipartisan agreement attempts to alleviate the worst of sequestration by allowing government agencies to have more flexibility in their spending cuts. The more unpopular spending cuts will be replaced.
Led by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA), the negotiations tried to appease the two parties’ bases while still reaching an agreement by December 13. Past that date – with the House set to go home on Friday for the holidays — stopgap funding measures would be hard to put in place in time to prevent another government shutdown when funds run out on January 15. The two-year agreement will bring relief to a number of sectors including the business community, the military and groups like veterans who have been slapped around by one self-inflicted fiscal crisis after another.
Instead of the sequester’s $63 billion in across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic programs, it replaces those cuts with $23 billion in deficit reduction, primarily through cuts to Medicare. The Medicare cuts are achieved by adding two years to the decade-long 2-percent cuts established in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Democrats get a budget and Republicans get continued budget reduction. Many conservative groups including Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers.
The agreement must still be approved by the House and Senate, then passed to the president to sign, making it the first successful bipartisan budget to make it through the process since 1986. The proposed budgets will be $1.012 trillion in fiscal year 2014 and $1.014 trillion in fiscal year 2015, replacing sequestration cuts with $22.5 billion in budget cuts. Conservative groups have demanded spending no higher than $967 billion which would have been achieved if sequestration remained in place. The additional $85 billion in reforms and “non-tax revenue” would virtually erase military spending cuts brought on by the sequester. Head Start, education and health research would be protected.
Non-tax revenue also includes increased fees to airline passengers, higher premiums to businesses for federal guarantee for pension benefits and requiring federal workers to chip in more for their pensions. Veterans with military pensions would receive lower cost-of-living increases.
Left out of the deal were the extension of unemployment benefits that will expire right after Christmas or any jobs program to help ease the still fragile jobs market. An estimated 20,000 veterans are included in the 1/3 million long-term unemployed who will face the new year with little to no income.
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Image courtesy of (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John Raufmann/Released).
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