WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders on Tuesday pushed toward a vote on a two-year budget deal despite conservative opposition, relying on the backing of Democrats for the far-reaching pact struck with President Barack Obama.
In his last days as speaker, John Boehner was intent on getting the measure through Congress quickly to head off a market-rattling debt crisis next week and a government shutdown in December. The deal also would take budget showdowns off the table until after the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, a potential boon to the eventual GOP nominee and incumbents facing tough re-election fights.
“The agreement isn’t perfect by any means,” but the alternative was a debt limit increase without any entitlement reform or money for troops, Boehner told reporters. “So this is a good deal.”
The Ohio Republican also said his goal was to “clean out the barn” for the next speaker. “I’ve done my best to clean it up,” he said.
The White House welcomed the agreement, with Vice-President Joe Biden calling it “a good deal.”
“The last seven years, we’ve gone from crisis to recovery, and we’re on the verge of being able to have a genuine economic resurgence here,” Biden said. “No one got everything they wanted. But it will last for two years and it will prevent us from lurching from crisis to crisis.”
A coalition of Democrats, Republican defence hawks, and GOP pragmatists appeared poised to power the legislation into law over opposition from the tea party forces that eased Boehner out.
“We can’t stop it. He’s in league with the Democrats,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said of Boehner. “I mean I don’t think there’s anything you can do at this point.”
But Massie also said “it’s a long game” and conservatives were winning the war as they had forced Boehner to resign.
The House budget vote slated for Wednesday would come on the same day as the GOP caucus nominates its candidate, widely expected to be Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. The speaker-to-be held off on assessing the deal, saying he had to review it, but he expressed frustration with the rush job.
“I think this process stinks. This is not the way to do the people’s business,” Ryan said. “Under new management, we’re not going to do the people’s business this way.”
The two-year pact would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies $80 billion in relief from budget constraints in exchange for cuts elsewhere in the budget.
The White House said Tuesday it was “promising” that Democrats and Republicans could come together to reach an agreement that would “break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision making.” Capitol Hill Democrats are likely to solidly support the agreement, which follows an outline they have been promoting for months.
“We successfully secured equal increases in funding defence and non-defence priorities,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “We have extended the solvency of Social Security Disability Insurance and protected millions of seniors from a significant increase in their Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles next year. Most importantly, we have affirmed that the full faith and credit of the United States is non-negotiable and inviolable.”
The legislation would suspend the current $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017. The budget portion would increase the current “caps” on total agency spending by $50 billion in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017, offset by savings elsewhere in the budget. And it would permit about $16 billion to be added on top of that in 2016, classified as war funding, with a comparable boost in 2017.
It also would clean up expected problems in Social Security and Medicare by fixing a shortfall looming next year in Social Security payments to the disabled, as well as a large increase in Medicare premiums and deductibles for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care.
The emerging budget side of the deal resembles a pact that Ryan fashioned two years ago in concert with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to ease automatic spending cuts for the 2014-15 budget years. A lot of conservatives disliked the measure and many on the GOP’s right flank are already swinging against the new one, which would apply to the 2016-17 budget years.
“I’m not excited about it at all,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said of the agreement. He called it “a two-year budget deal that raises the debt ceiling for basically the entire term of this presidency.”
Boehner was pushed aside by conservatives in his own party after repeatedly turning to Democrats to pass must-do legislation in an era of divided government. Many Republicans also resented being kept in the dark. The pending deal fits both criteria.
Among the proposed spending cuts are curbs on Medicare payments for outpatient services provided by hospitals that have taken over doctors’ practices, and an extension of a 2 percentage-point cut in Medicare payments to doctors through the end of a 10-year budget. It requires the sale of 58 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, cuts crop insurance payments to insurance providers and requires new auctions of spectrum to communications companies.
The budget side of the deal is aimed at undoing automatic spending cuts which are a byproduct of a 2011 budget and debt agreement, and the failure of Washington to subsequently tackle the government’s fiscal woes. GOP defence hawks are a driving force, intent on reversing the automatic cuts and getting more money for the military. A key priority for Democrats is to boost domestic programs.
The focus is on setting a new overall spending limit for agencies with operating budgets set by Congress each year. It will be up to the House and Senate Appropriations committees to produce a detailed omnibus spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Erica Werner contributed to this report.