By Seth McLaughlin – The Washington Times
WASHINGTON D.C. – Overcoming vocal opposition from both ends of the spectrum, the House of Representatives easily passed a bipartisan budget proposal that aims to prevent another government shutdown for the next two years, clearing the way for it to be approved by the Senate and quickly signed into law by President Obama.
The 332-94 vote capped a drama-filled few days on Capitol Hill, where House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, delivered rare public rebukes to his conservative critics and Democrats cast Republicans as Grinches for not extending expiring unemployment benefits before Christmas.
Despite opposition from conservative groups, 169 Republicans joined 163 Democrats to vote for the plan, which critics said did not address the biggest drivers of spending: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sixty-two Republicans and 32 Democrats — including the minority party’s second-in-command, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland — voted against the package.
But in the Senate, Republicans queued up to oppose the pact. Senate Democrats need at last five Republicans to cross over for the budget bill to pass, but so far not one has publicly endorsed the plan. What’s more, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said Senate Republicans plan to filibuster the bill.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration said passage of the House bill was “a positive step forward for the nation and our economy.”
“This bill does not include everything the president called for, but it marks an important moment of bipartisan cooperation and shows Washington can and should stop governing by crisis and both sides can work together to get things done,” a White House statement said.
The vote was a victory for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who negotiated the compromise with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
Speaking on the House floor before the evening vote, Mr. Ryan said the proposal would bring stability to the budget process, ensure the military was properly funded and stop Congress from lurching from one crisis to another — all without raising taxes.
“This bill saves more than if we did nothing,” Mr. Ryan said, adding that the bill does not go as far as he would like. “It is not near the breadth and the scope of the budget that we passed earlier. But that is how it works in divided government. That is the nature of compromise.”
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agreed that the bill was modest but called it a step in the right direction.
They said it reduced the deficit and restored some of the across-the-board spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies, which lawmakers claimed were haphazard and had hampered economic growth. The bill raises spending caps by $63 billion — from $967 billion under sequestration to $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 in 2015 — and reduces the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.
It also raises some fees, including higher security costs for airline passengers, requires new federal workers to pay more for retirement benefits and lowers the cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees younger than 62. It also prevents a 20 percent cut in payments for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Senate prepares to vote
The proposal now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, indicated Thursday that he has the votes to send it to Mr. Obama for his signature. Several prominent Senate Republicans, however, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have come out against the deal.
“Instead of lurching forward from crisis to crisis, we’re now going to have a two-year appropriations cycle,” Mr. Reid said.
The budget proposal was one of the last remaining items on Congress’ to-do list and one of the few bipartisan deals to come out of a year of gridlock that included a 16-day partial government shutdown, dozens of attempts to repeal President Obama’s health care law and consistent Republican resistance to the Obama administration’s agenda.
But the budget vote Thursday exposed sharp divisions within conservative ranks that pits the Republican Party establishment against outside activist groups such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Tea Party Patriots.
They lambasted Republicans for failing to curb the costs of entitlement programs while embracing new “fees” and spending in the short term in exchange for promises of long-term cuts.
Mr. Boehner, for a second straight day, questioned the credibility of the groups attacking Mr. Ryan’s handiwork before having studied it.
“I came here to cut the size of government,” Mr. Boehner said. “That’s exactly what this bill does. And why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this or criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I can come up with.”
Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said the tea party movement powered Republicans to control of the House in 2010 and could knock Mr. Boehner out of leadership.
“Frankly, Mr. Speaker, continuously making promises and then breaking them is how you lose credibility with the American people,” Mrs. Martin said. “Pitting your colleagues against their constituents is how you lose credibility with your conference. Not upholding conservative principles is how you lose credibility with the voters who will find someone else if you are not willing to do your job.”
Anti-debt advocacy groups offered modest praise for the deal but bemoaned its failure to tackle longer-term problems.
“While this legislation falls well short of what is necessary to adequately address our burdensome national debt and the many other fiscal challenges facing the country, it does represent a step in the right direction and proves that bipartisan compromise is still possible in Washington,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “We hope that this bill’s passage will lead to further bipartisan cooperation that goes much further in confronting the real long-term drivers of our debt.”
Lukewarm Democratic support
The budget deal received lukewarm support from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who said that ending Capitol Hill’s serial budget showdowns would allow Congress to shift its attention to raising the minimum wage, tackle the broken immigration system and consider stricter background checks for gun purchases.
Mrs. Pelosi also criticized House Republicans for inserting a three-month extension of the “doc fix” into the deal, but not doing the same for the long-term unemployed whose benefits are set to expire Dec. 28.
Before the vote, Democrats tried but failed to include a three-month extension of jobless benefits affecting more than 1 million people.
“Let’s not turn our backs on the most vulnerable in this country,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “This is the holiday season; have a heart. … We ought to help these people — not skip town.”
Conservative and tea party groups continued to pile on criticism, warning that the public should be wary of a spending increase now in exchange for deficit reductions down the road.
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, called on conservatives to demand that Congress vote “‘No’ on this bad budget.”
“Let’s make sure that Congress knows that we won’t stand for any more broken promises to rein in spending,” Mr. Phillips said, adding that his group would be using the vote on its legislative scorecard rating lawmakers. “Increased government revenue through taxes or fees and increased spending, is against everything that fiscally conservative Americans stand for. Tell Congress NO new spending.”