Democrats agree on budget pact
WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats sealed an agreement last night on a budget plan that would help President Obama overhaul the healthcare system but allows his signature tax cut for most workers to expire after next year.
Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, announced the agreement and key details in a statement.
Most importantly, the congressional budget plan would prevent Senate Republicans from delaying or blocking Obama's plan to expand government-subsidized healthcare when it advances this fall.
The $3.5 trillion plan for the budget year starting Oct. 1 embraces several of Obama's key goals besides healthcare changes, including funds for domestic programs and clean energy and a tax increase for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or couples making more than $250,000.
But the plan would allow Obama's signature $400 tax cut for most workers and $800 for couples to expire at the end of next year. Even after squeezing the defense and war budgets to levels that are probably unrealistic, the plan would cause a deficit of $523 billion in five years.
"I think this is a good budget," Conrad said. But, he added, "much more will have to be done to get us on a more sustainable course," including slowing the growth of benefit programs like Medicare and overhauling the tax code.
Conrad forced cuts of $10 billion from Obama's $50 billion boost for nondefense programs funded by Congress each year, not much in the grand scheme but strongly resisted by House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin. Future increases for nondefense operating budgets would be far less generous than Obama's budget.