WASHINGTON – Battle-fatigued and suddenly bipartisan, the House voted Thursday night to ease across-the-board federal spending cuts and head off future government shutdowns, acting after Speaker John A. Boehner unleashed a stinging attack on tea party-aligned conservative groups campaigning for the measure’s defeat.
The legislation, backed by the White House, cleared on a vote of 332-94, with lopsided majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike voting in favor. Final passage is expected next week in the Senate.
The events in the House gave a light coating of bipartisan cooperation 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 Obama’s second-term agenda.
Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, hailed the vote, saying that it “shows Washington can and should stop governing by crisis and both sides can work together to get things done.”
Minutes after the budget action, the House approved a broad military policy bill that aims to curb sexual assaults, cover combat pay for U.S. forces and fund new aircraft and ships. That vote, too, was lopsided, 350-69, sending the bill to the Senate, which plans to adjourn for the year next week.
In the end, the budget debate in the House was tame by comparison with Boehner’s criticism of Republican-favoring outside groups that at times have been more of an obstacle to him than Democrats.
“I think they’re misleading their followers,” the Ohio Republican 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.
House Budget Committee Chairman. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., an 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 Ryan, whose handiwork could well be challenged in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.
The House’s second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 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 of Washington – and endorsed by the White House – would set overall spending levels for the current budget year and the one that begins 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.