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Budget Bill Moves Toward Final Passage in Senate

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) With the help of 12 Republicans, Senate Democrats have moved forward with a bipartisan budget bill aimed at easing some of the painful budget cuts hitting the Pentagon and domestic agencies. A final vote is expected no later than tomorrow.

The bill is aimed partly at stabilizing a broken budget process after the partial government shutdown in October.

The measure would ease for two years some of the harshest cuts to agency budgets required under automatic spending curbs commonly known as sequestration. It would replace $45 billion in scheduled cuts for the 2014 budget year already underway, easing about half of the scheduled cuts.

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The budget agreement passed by the House and being debated in the Senate sets spending limits for two years and averts a possible government shutdown in January. Endorsed by President Barack Obama, it increases government deficits in 2014 and 2015 but reduces them over 10 years by a total of $23 billion.

Key details:

-Establishes overall non-war-related discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015. Discretionary spending is the money approved by Congress each year for agency operations. The House budget level had been $967 billion and the Senate $1.058 trillion for the year that runs through next Sept. 30. Fiscal 2013 spending was $986 billion.

-Eases across-the-board "sequester" spending cuts by $63 billion over two years, split between defense and domestic programs. In the current fiscal year, defense would be set at a base budget of $520.5 billion and domestic programs at $491.8 billion.

-Raises airline security fees from $5 to $11.20 for a typical round-trip ticket starting July 1, 2014. That would raise $13 billion over 10 years. Current fees are $2.50 per leg with a maximum of $10 for a round trip with connecting flights or $5 for a round trip with non-stops.

-Reduces retirement benefits for working-age military retirees, including those who retire early because of disability. Starting Dec. 1, 2015, the cost-of-living adjustment for pensions received by people under 62 would be modified to equal inflation minus 1 percent. Upon reaching 62, retirees would receive a "catch-up" increase that would restore their pensions to levels as if the cost-of-living adjustment had been the full consumer price index in all previous years. The change would save $6 billion.

-Increases by 1.3 percentage points the pension contributions paid by federal civilian workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014. The change would raise $6 billion.

-Restricts access to Social Security death records to prevent identity thieves from filing fraudulent tax returns. The change would save $269 million.

-Raises premiums paid by corporations to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. to guarantee pension benefits, a change that would raise $8 billion.

-Eliminates a requirement that the Maritime Administration reimburse other federal agencies for additional costs associated with shipping food aid on U.S. ships. This would save $731 million.

-Cancels $1.6 billion in unobligated balances in Justice and Treasury Department funds that seize assets from criminals.

-Caps the maximum government payment for contract employees at $487,000, indexed to inflation. Agencies could make exceptions for scientists, engineers and other specialists.

-Gives the Treasury Department greater access to prison data to prevent prisoners from claiming improper payments. This would save $80 million.

-Approves a U.S.-Mexico agreement on oil and gas exploration in waters outside their exclusive economic zones.

-Permanently extends a requirement that states receiving mineral lease payments contribute to the federal government's administrative costs. This step would save $415 million.

-Extends Bureau of Customs and Border Protection user fees. This would raise $7 billion.


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