UT / AP - HOUSE PASSES BUDGET
WASHINGTON - Battle-fatigued and suddenly bipartisan, the House voted Thursday night to ease across-the-board federal spending cuts and head off future government shutdowns, acting after Speaker John Boehner unleashed a stinging attack on tea party-aligned conservative groups campaigning for the measure’s defeat.
The legislation, backed by the White House, cleared on a vote of 332-94, with lopsided majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike voting in favor. Final passage is expected next week in the Senate.
Reps. Susan Davis, D-San Diego; Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine; Darrell Issa, R-Vista; Scott Peters, D-San Diego, and Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, voted for the measure.
The events in the House gave a light coating of bipartisan cooperation to the end of a bruising year of divided government — memorable for a partial government shutdown, flirtation with an unprecedented Treasury default and gridlock on immigration, gun control and other items on President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda.
Minutes after the budget action, the House approved a broad military policy bill that aims to curb sexual assaults, cover combat pay for U.S. forces and fund new aircraft and ships.
In the end, the budget debate in the House was tame by comparison with Boehner’s criticism of Republican-favoring outside groups that at times have been more of an obstacle to him than Democrats.
“I think they’re misleading their followers,” the Republican speaker said of the groups, whom he pointedly also blamed for last fall’s politically damaging partial government shutdown. “I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility” by opposing legislation before the details are known.
He mentioned no organizations by name, although it appeared he was referring to Heritage Action and Club for Growth, both of which have sought to push the House further to the right than the Republican leadership has been willing to go.
Some conservatives recoiled at Boehner’s critique, with the central complaint focusing on increased funding for federal agencies.
“The more information that gets out about this deal, the harder it is for members to vote yes and go back home and explain that vote,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action. Holler warned that Boehner will risk the Republican majority if conservative voters “are not going to motivate to turn out in November 2014.”
He described Boehner’s message to conservative voters as, “We use you guys to get elected.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a chief GOP architect of the deal, made the conservatives’ case for support. The measure “reduces the deficit by $23 billion. It does not raise taxes and it cuts spending in a smarter way,” said the Budget Committee’s chairman.
Peters called it the “sort of bipartisan, reasonable solution that the people of San Diego expect from Congress.”
“For the first time in four years, we will replace crisis-to-crisis budgeting with a two-year plan that provides stability and predictability to agencies, basic scientific research programs and the military,” he said. “The sequester relief and flexibility that it allows are key to keeping our economic recovery on the upward trend.”
Hunter said it effectively prevents the lurching to crisis after crisis.
“And this provides the certainty and clarity that’s been missing from the budget process for so long. Not doing what we’re supposed to would only perpetuate the state of dysfunctional budgeting that’s become too common,” Hunter said.
The agreement, negotiated by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, would set overall spending levels for the current budget year and the one that begins on Oct. 1, 2014. That straightforward action would probably eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown and reduce the opportunity for the periodic brinkmanship of the kind that has flourished in the current three-year era of divided government.
The measure would erase $63 billion in across-the-board cuts set for January and early 2015 on domestic and defense programs, leaving about $140 billion in reductions in place. On the other side of the budget ledger, it projects savings totaling $85 billion over the coming decade, enough to show a deficit reduction of about $23 billion over the 10-year period.
The cuts would be replaced with savings generated from dozens of sources. Among them are higher airline security fees, curbs on the pension benefits of new federal workers and additional costs for corporations whose pensions are guaranteed by the federal government. The measure also would slow the annual cost-of-living increase in benefits for military retirees under the age of 62.
The combination of short-term spending increases and long-term savings would send deficits higher for the current budget year and each of the next two, a dramatic departure from the conservative orthodoxy that Republicans have enforced since taking control of the House three years ago.
Issa said despite shortcomings, the bill was the best Republicans could get in divided government.
“We have Republican and Democratic-controlled houses and as a result no one solution is possible,” said Issa. Echoing Boehner’s sentiments, he said of the outside groups, “What do they want, another government shutdown? If so, they ought to run for Congress.”