The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018

In the wee hours of Friday morning, Congress voted to pass a two-year budget deal that averted a potential shutdown and lifted the debt ceiling.

As should come as no surprise, the deal was a mix of good, bad, and ugly.

THE GOOD: The deal raises discretionary social spending by more than $130 billion ($63 billion in FY 2018 and $68 billion in FY 2019); provides $89.3 billion in disaster for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an additional four years.

THE BAD: Democrats had sought to have increases in spending for military and social purposes be matched dollar-for-dollar. Instead, Pentagon spending was increased by more $160 billion ($80 billion in FY 2018 and $85 billion in FY 2019). The Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund also received $71 billion. It speaks to the distressingly bipartisan nature of the military-industrial complex that the Democrats only sought parity in social and military spending, rather than curbs in wasteful military spending that makes us no safer and leads to endless death and destruction.

THE UGLY: Although Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) gave a record-breaking 8-hour speech on Wednesday calling for immediate action to protect Dreamers, the bill did nothing on this. Democrats abandoned Dreamers during the last shutdown fight and did so again, leaving them to face, at best, anxiety and, at worst, deportation.

As Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient from Arizona, was quoted in The Nation saying, “They go in front of the camera. They say they are champions of us, that they want to protect us? But their words are not going to protect me from deportation.”

Going into negotiations, Democrats knew that Paul Ryan would not have the votes for a spending deal in his caucus alone; their votes would be required. That’s a given in the Senate as well, even more so because the Senate is only 50 to 49 (with McCain’s long-term absence). For a spending bill, you will almost inevitably lose Mike Lee and Rand Paul as well. So Democrats, despite their minority party status, have some leverage they could use; indeed, must-pass bills afford them some of the only leverage they really have.

And although they won some valuable additions to the bill (mostly to be fleshed out in the appropriations process), their repeated abandonment of Dreamers is a disappointment and an embarrassment.

At 1:31 AM, the Senate passed the two-year budget deal 71–28. John McCain (R-AZ) was absent.

That opposition included 12 Democrats: Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

11 of the 12 voiced that the lack of support for Dreamers was a main part of their NO vote. (Feinstein did not issue a press release or tweet, but has said this during January’s shutdown showdown.) Despite having a Twitter cover image saying “We Stand with Dreamers,” Bennet only talked about the deficit in his statement. Sanders, Merkley, and Wyden all voiced opposition to the excessive military spending in the deal. Merkley and Wyden criticized the lack of funding for forest fire prevention, and Cantwell criticized the lack of funding for rural development.

And here are the 16 Republicans: Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Bob Corker (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Kennedy (R-LA), Jim Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim Risch (R-ID), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).

The 16 Republicans were mainly soi-disant “deficit hawks” who had no problem voting for a budget-busting tax cut not that long ago. Deficits, of course, are only a problem when they entail spending that doesn’t mainly line the pockets of GOP donors.

The cloture vote prior to this final vote was a similar-but-not-the-same 73–26. Cassidy, Kennedy, and Wyden had voted for cloture, but Joni Ernst (R-IA) did not.

At 5:32 AM, the House followed suit, passing the deal 240 to 186. 167 Republicans and 73 Democrats voted for it, and 119 Democrats and 67 Republicans voted against it.

Here are the 73 Democrats:




Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.

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Jonathan Cohn

Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.

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