Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Obama signs bipartisan budget deal

SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY:The deal is widely seen as a modest one, and avoids raising taxes while providing more funding for education and other domestic programs

Reuters, HONOLULU

US President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a compromise budget that reduces the risk of another government shutdown and a defense bill that cracks down on sexual assault in the military and smooths the path for transferring detainees from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The two-year budget agreement, negotiated by US Congress earlier this month, and the US National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year were among seven pieces of legislation signed by Obama, who is vacationing with his family in Hawaii.

The US Senate passed the budget deal on Dec. 18 to ease automatic spending cuts and reduce the risk of a government shutdown.

It was negotiated by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington state and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin.

Obama at that time praised the measure — the first budget agreed to by a divided Congress since 2009 — saying it was “a good first step away from the shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy.”

He did not comment further on Thursday.

The Senate approved the annual defense policy bill on Dec. 20, one of its final actions before leaving for the Christmas break.

The act authorizes a Pentagon base budget of US$526.8 billion in the next fiscal year. That amount will have to be reconciled early in the new year with the US$498 billion agreed to in the budget deal.

The wide-ranging bill also included several measures to reform the way the military justice system responds to sexual assaults among members of the military and boosts the Pentagon’s ability to help destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

The bill also makes it easier for the White House to transfer prisoners from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to countries willing to accept them.

The budget accord set federal government spending levels for two years.

It ended, at least for the time being, three years of bitter bipartisan warfare over spending, taxes and Obama’s healthcare law that twice brought the nation to the brink of defaulting on its debt.

Widely viewed as a modest deal, it blunts the effect of automatic “sequestration” spending cuts by allowing spending to rise by US$63 billion over scheduled levels in ther next fiscal year and in 2015.

The accord was hailed as a welcome but rare example of bipartisan compromise and came after Congress’ approval ratings sank to historic lows because of seemingly never-ending brinkmanship over spending and taxes.

The deal avoids raising taxes, an important goal for Republicans, and provides more funding for education and other domestic programs championed by Democrats.

It raises revenues by increasing airport security fees, trimming federal retirement benefits and curtailing some military pensions.

However, the pact omits an extension of long-term unemployment benefits favored by Obama.

A projected 1.3 million people will lose extended unemployment benefits when they expire today.

It also leaves for lawmakers to work out an increase in the federal debt ceiling, which, if left unchanged at its current US$16.7 trillion level, could again put the US at risk of default.

The deal was seen by conservative Republicans as a missed opportunity to make a significant cuts to the federal budget deficit, which was US$680.3 billion in the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30.

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