The budget deal in plain English

WASHINGTON — Hey! Republicans and Democrats agreed on something! Woo hoo… er, whoa. What is this deal, exactly? The summary is written in Washington-speak. To make it easier, here’s our user-friendly version of highlights and what they mean.

The money: The deal sets the government’s spending level at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year and $1.014 trillion for next year. So what? Keep reading.

Budget cuts: Here’s the first reason the deal matters. Those spending levels would eliminate $45 billion in forced budget cuts (yes, “sequester”) set to hit in January and another $18 billion set to hit in 2015. It would not eliminate all of the cuts, but would erase a large chunk of them.

Wait, so does it raise spending?: Hang with us here. Simple question, not-so-simple answer. The deal would raise one kind of spending – discretionary spending – for the next two years. That’s the type of spending Congress votes on each year. It funds many government agencies. But the deal more than offsets that two-year spending increase with long-term cuts to a different type of spending – mandatory spending, or spending that happens automatically under the law. So over 10 years, the deal saves money, its writers say.

Airline fees: Buy your tickets now and save a few bucks. The deal would essentially double the TSA security fee for most air travel starting January 1. For a one-way flight, the fee would go from $2.50 to $5. Roundtrip, it would move from $5 to $10.

Federal workers: This was one of the most difficult pieces of the deal to work out. In the end, the deal requires that newly hired federal workers pay more into their pension fund. The change means that new federal workers would see a 1.3% pay cut.

The troops: Military retirees under the age of 62 will face slimmer cost-of-living increases in their retirement pay. This is phased in over three years, but ultimately cost-of-living adjustments, or COLA, will be cut by 1%.

Contractor pay: Bad news for contractors who charge the government $488,000 or more for their salaries. The deal caps what the government will pay for a contractor’s salary at $487,000.

More budget cuts, later: The deal may roll back much of the sequester during the next two years, but it extends forced budget cuts for two new years on the back end, into 2023 and 2024.

Oddball proposals: The deal contains more than a dozen other assorted provisions, a kind of nickle-by-nickle, rag-tag collection. Here are some that especially stand out.

The Death Master File: Cue the Star Wars’ Imperial March music here. Turns out the Department of Commerce keeps something called the “Death Master File,” which lists people who have died and their Social Security numbers. The budget deal would block fraud (checks going to dead people, essentially) by limiting access to the death list and raising penalties for misuse.

Prisoners shouldn’t get unemployment checks: The deal aims to block prisoners from getting government checks the law bans, like unemployment benefits, by increasing the coordination of prisoner lists.

Student loan companies: This isn’t sexy, but it is worth $3 billion, according to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s office. The deal would take away automatic payment for non-profit student loan servicers, replacing it with payment that Congress determines yearly. Told you it wasn’t sexy.

Pension guarantees: And, it gets even more wonky — but also more lucrative. The federal government runs a program that guarantees the pensions for companies that participate, sensibly called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The deal saves an estimated $7.9 billion by asking the companies to pay more money for that guarantee.

Gas and oil: The deal would make two changes that energy companies won’t like. It ends a government research program that Ryan’s office says was for private energy companies. It also ends a provision that allowed energy companies to stash funds in government accounts and earn interest above market rates.

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