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.
It has since narrowed in absolute terms and as a percentage of the economy as employment rises.
Congress now has the task of slicing the more than US$1.012 trillion pie to determine funding levels for individual government programs.
Without new spending authority, the federal government could partially shut down on Jan. 15, as it did for 16 days in October when Republicans sought to tie spending legislation to delays or cutbacks in the president’s signature Affordable Care Act healthcare law, also known as Obamacare.
The administration has warned Congress that the government could run out of borrowing authority as soon as February next year if lawmakers do not raise the debt limit.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies