WASHINGTON – The Republican-dominated House of Representatives, in a show of bipartisanship, passed a compromise spending plan Thursday easing across-the-board federal spending cuts and designed to prevent future government shutdowns.
The legislation, backed by the White House, cleared on a vote of 332-94, with lopsided majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike voting in favour. Final passage is expected next week in the Senate.
The events in the House gave a light coating of bipartisan co-operation 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.
Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, hailed the vote, saying it “shows Washington can and should stop governing by crisis and both sides can work together to get things done.”
In the end, the debate in the House was tame by comparison with House Speaker John Boehner’s criticism of conservative tea party-aligned groups that campaigned for the measure’s defeat.
“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.
Rep. Paul Ryan, a chief Republican 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, whose handiwork could well be challenged in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.
The second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, joined other party leaders in swinging behind the measure, even though he noted that he represents 62,000 federal workers and said future government employees will pay higher pensions costs because of the bill. “This agreement is better than the alternative” of ever deeper across-the-board cuts, he said.
The agreement, negotiated by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray— and endorsed by the White House — 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 defence programs, leaving about $140 billion in reductions in place. On the other side of the budget ledger, it projects savings totalling $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.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this story.