There's been a political shift among House Republicans, and it helped the GOP pass a budget deal with overwhelming support that might have never seen the light of day earlier this year.
In a 332-94 vote, the House approved a measure that would spend $1.014 trillion in 2014 and restore over the next two years a significant portion of sequester cuts that GOP conservatives fought to achieve during the past decade.
|... Let's try to make this divided government work.|
Most Republicans voted for the bill — just 62 said "no."
The measure now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to pass next week.
The House and Senate must still work out a spending measure, but the budget deal eliminates much of the fight. Lawmakers will have until January 15 to pass a government funding measure for fiscal 2014.
Many of the GOP supporters noted that half of sequester cuts that were eliminated -- more than $30 billion -- will be used to fund defense budgets depleted by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which mandates nearly $1 trillion in sequester cuts spread over the next decade. The nation's defense budget was scheduled for a $52 billion sequester cut next year.
"I'm very pro-defense," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., explaining his decision to support the budget deal.
Ryan said after the vote he was surprised it passed by such a wide margin, but over the course of the week, it became increasingly clear the GOP resistance of October had largely melted away, in part because of the desire to restore defense cuts and out of fear that another government shutdown would sent their poll numbers plunging.
Fleming was among the dozens of Republicans who pressured the GOP leadership in October to stand firm on refusing to fund the federal budget unless money for the new health care law was excluded. The budget stalemate led to a 16-day government shutdown that voters blamed on Republicans. The party dropped significantly in the polls and left the GOP leadership fuming at the far-right Tea Party faction.
This time around, some of the same Republican conservatives who spearheaded the shutdown also voted against the measure, but many others conservatives voted for the budget deal, including Fleming, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who said a military base in his district could have been forced to close if the next round of sequester cuts were not stopped.
"We have hit bottom when it comes to what we can do with military spending," Fleming said. "We may be done in a lot of ways that we may not be able to spring back from."
The measure is a scaled down version of a hoped-for "grand bargain" on entitlement spending and taxes. That larger deal never materialized and the two sides settled on the much smaller agreement, finding a pathway to compromise because both sides wanted to restore the sequester cuts, though for different reasons.
Democrats had little interest in adding more money to defense. They supported the deal because it restores more than $30 billion in cuts to domestic programs they deem critical, including Head Start education.
Democrats protested that the bill did not include an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire after Dec. 28.
The House is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Thursday, which means Congress cannot take up an benefits extension bill until January at the earliest.
"It is unconscionable that the budget deal before us today does not include unemployment insurance," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during the debate on the measure.
But while Democratic leaders protested the exclusion, they also voted for the budget deal by a margin of 163-32.
"The agreement," Hoyer said, "is better than the alternative."
Republicans are divided over whether the measure will reduce the deficit as promised by Ryan. There are permanent reforms that are aimed at reducing spending and cutting the deficit by $23 billion, but some in the GOP believe the budget math is gimmicky and will be nixed by a later Congress.
Ryan, during floor debate, made the case that while the budget reforms did not go "nearly as far as we wanted to go," they moved spending reduction in the right direction.
Bigger changes could only come with new government, Ryan said.
"To really do what needs to be done, we'll have to win some elections," Ryan said."In the meantime, let's try to make this divided government work."