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House Passes Budget Bill

House Passes Budget Bill

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 12, 2013

A budget agreement that cuts the deficit by $85 billion, struck by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, cleared a key hurdle Thursday night as the U.S. House backed it on a bipartisan vote of 332-94.

Passage of the bill -- which garnered support from 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats -- was significant for a Congress that has been operating on short-term budget resolutions for years because of deep divisions over spending.

The measure’s success was also a notable change for House Republicans, whose hard-line strategy during the October budget battle led to the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

Though 62 Republicans rejected Ryan’s appeal, the Budget Committee chairman sold the bill to the bulk of his party colleagues as one that won’t raise taxes, reduces the deficit over time, and restores defense cuts. Democrats touted higher spending levels in the bill, the reversal of across-the-board cuts in defense and discretionary spending (known as the sequester) for two years, and that the measure made no changes to entitlement programs.

The agreement sets spending levels for the next two fiscal years at a little over $1 trillion -- considered a halfway point between the two sides’ preferred numbers. It also restores $63 billion in sequester cuts for two years only, offset by requiring future federal employees to pay more into their pensions, charging higher security fees for airline passengers, trimming military pensions and other measures.

(The amount of deficit reduction involves two sets of numbers: The $85 billion is spread over 10 years, but the $63 billion in restored cuts brings the net reduction to approximately $23 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

Lawmakers on both sides found much to dislike in the deal. Democrats were reluctant to support a measure that didn’t extend federal unemployment compensation to over a million Americans -- a benefit that will expire at the end of the year. (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised that the Senate would take up the matter when lawmakers return next year from recess, and apply the benefits retroactively.) Republicans opposed the increased spending level -- up from the $967 billion written into the Budget Control Act hammered out in 2011 -- and that it reversed sequester cuts without making changes to programs like Medicare.

Still, congressional leaders were able to string together enough votes for passage before the House recesses on Friday until next year.

Murray expressed confidence that the bill would pass the Senate, despite Republican opposition.

Aside from the news of House lawmakers passing an actual budget, the agreement was remarkable for the ways in which it emboldened some congressional leaders.

Asked about opposition from GOP senators such as Marco Rubio, Ryan responded pithily, saying the Florida conservative should “read the deal and get back to me.” He continued, during an interview with MSNBC Thursday: “People are going to do what they need to do. In the minority, you don’t have the burden of governing, of getting things done.”

And perhaps more notably, House Speaker John Boehner pushed back against conservative outside groups that opposed the deal and have been a nuisance to him in past budget fights. On Wednesday, he said groups that pre-judged the agreement were “using” GOP members for their own gain. And on Thursday, Boehner noted their failed push to defund the health care law or else shut down the government. “I just think that they’ve lost all credibility,” he said. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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