House Passes Budget, Debt Ceiling Agreement

House Passes Budget, Debt Ceiling Agreement
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The House of Representatives easily passed a budget agreement Wednesday that increases spending by $80 billion above sequestration caps and lifts the debt ceiling through March 2017.

The agreement, negotiated between the White House and congressional leadership and presented to rank-and-file lawmakers earlier this week, sets top-line spending levels for the next two years and lifts the debt limit to prevent major economic controversies before the 2016 election. In addition to setting spending levels, the legislation provides fixes for Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare to prevent premium increases for senior citizens, both long-sought entitlement reforms.

The agreement passed the House 266-187, with Democrats carrying the weight of the support – no Democrat voted against the agreement, while 167 Republicans opposed it. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called it a “major victory.”

“It was a victory for bipartisanship, it was a victory for working families in our country, it was a victory that enables us to go forward to do our job for the American people,” Pelosi said in a press conference after the vote. “The unity on the Democratic side in the House, demonstrated by 100 percent of Democrats voting for the agreement – it didn’t mean that they approved of every single aspect of it – it is a compromise ­– but it did say that we have unity.”

Speaker John Boehner, who helped negotiate the agreement, cast a rare vote in favor of it. His likely successor, Rep. Paul Ryan – who was nominated by Republicans to be the next speaker just hours earlier – also voted in favor of the agreement, though he said he would run a better budget process once he leads the House.

“Ultimately, my vote is going to be determined by the substance of the bill – and whether there is, at this point, a better alternative. As with any budget agreement, this one has some good, some bad, and some ugly,” Ryan said in a statement. “What I’ve heard from members over the last two weeks is a desire to wipe the slate clean, put in place a process that builds trust, and start focusing on big ideas. What has been produced will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us, and that’s why I intend to support it.”

The agreement now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to have bipartisan support to clear the 60-vote threshold despite protestations from some Republican senators, including those running for president. Sen. Ted Cruz called the agreement “complete and utter surrender” earlier this week, and Sen. Rand Paul said he would do “everything I can to stop it.”

Despite those objections, the House completed work on the agreement in enough time that even if Paul and Cruz filibuster or attempt to block the agreement, the Senate will still be able to pass it before the debt limit hits Tuesday, but only if 60 senators vote to support it.

Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he expected all 46 Democratic senators to vote for the deal, meaning it would take just 14 Republicans to pass it. Reid also took a swipe at Republicans for not having more support for the agreement in the House. He noted that while all Democrats voted for the bill, just 32 percent of House Republicans did.

“The vast majority of the Republicans serving the House of Representatives obviously wanted to default on the debt of this country, which would be so catastrophic not only to America but the world,” Reid said. “And obviously, they didn’t mind the government shutting down.”

If the Senate does pass the measure, it will take defaulting on the debt off the table for the next 15 months, but work funding the government won’t be finished just yet. Lawmakers will have the top-line spending numbers set, but will still have to come up with an omnibus appropriations bill to actually fund the government before the Dec. 11 deadline.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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