House OKs bipartisan budget deal

  • Article by: LISA MASCARO , McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Updated: December 12, 2013 - 11:35 PM

The legislation is aimed at avoiding a government shutdown and easing automatic spending cuts.

 

– The House overwhelmingly approved a budget deal Thursday designed to avert another government shutdown, a rare bipartisan accord that breaks with the Tea-Party-driven cycle of brinkmanship and could signal a new era of political pragmatism in Congress.

The agreement represents a victory for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who appears to have regained at least momentary control of his rebellious majority and turned back the supersized influence of outside conservative groups. It also boosts Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, who put his political capital on the line to craft the deal with his Democratic budgetary counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state.

Whether the spirit of detente will extend into next year is uncertain. Congress will need to give the $85 billion package final approval next month to avert a shutdown on Jan. 15, and will then turn to the debate over whether to raise the nation’s debt limit, a divisive issue.

The measure was approved, 332-94, by most Republicans and Democrats over the objection of 62 Republicans, mostly hard-line conservatives, and 32 Democrats, who opposed it because it did not extend long-term unemployment insurance. Among Minnesotans, all voted for it but Reps. Michele Bachmann and Keith Ellison.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure in coming days despite opposition from Tea Party Republicans and a possible no vote from the GOP minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

House conservatives have frequently bucked Boehner on budget deals, leading to the 16-day government shutdown in October that left Republicans badly damaged in polls. But most appeared to have lost their desire to push budget battles to the brink.

Even as House leaders welcomed the breakthrough after months of dysfunction, they downplayed the modest deal from a Congress whose approval ratings have plummeted to all-time lows.

“There were a lot of lessons learned over the course of this year, a lot of lessons learned over the course of the last three years, and I actually do feel like we’re in a better place,” Boehner said. “We’re going to deal with these issues one at a time. The goal today is to get this budget agreement passed. We’ll deal with the debt ceiling when we get there.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader from San Francisco who delivered Democratic support to ensure passage, cautioned against reading too much into a deal that is so far from the sweeping agreement that both sides once sought.

The $85 billion accord increases spending levels for the next two fiscal years beyond what conservatives wanted but less than Democrats had sought. It reverses $63 billion of the automatic “sequester” cuts that were opposed by all but the most conservative lawmakers. Those steep cuts were opposed by an unlikely alliance of defense hawks and Democrats who compromised to spare the Pentagon and social programs.

To attract conservatives, the deal puts more than $22 billion toward deficit reduction and includes no new taxes. The increased spending is paid for with changes over the next decade that include new fees, such as on airline travel, and pension reductions for new federal employees and uninjured military retirees under 62.

At the last minute, Republicans tacked on a provision to prevent a scheduled cut in pay for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Many Republicans have decided their efforts should be directed elsewhere — namely, fighting President Obama’s health care law — rather than revisiting the budget wars that have defined the last several years.

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