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Policy: Entitlements

Tea Party conservatives who provoked shutdown are sidelined in new budget deal

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Tea Party,Entitlements,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Spending

Typically vocal Republican conservatives don't like the bipartisan budget deal Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced yesterday, but they seem resigned to the likelihood that it will pass the House on Thursday.

"I don't think there is going to be a fight," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said at a Wednesday gathering of the most conservative flank of the House GOP.

Two months after a federal government shutdown, it's a much different atmosphere on Capitol Hill as House Republicans plan to vote as soon as Thursday on a budget agreement that sets spending levels for the next two years.

Such a deal might have been impossible in October.

That's when then far-right faction was leading a fight to delay or defund the new heath care law by blocking a government funding bill unless it excluded funding for Obamacare. The result was a 16-day government shutdown for which Republican lawmakers were clobbered in the polls.

This time around, Republican leaders have pushed aside their far-right Republican faction, crafting a deal they plan to pass without their support. The proposal won't defund the troubled health care law nor does it include other conservative priorities like entitlement reform.

"This bill was not designed to get most of the people on this dais," Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. said Wednesday at the December installment of "Conversations with Conservatives."

The gathering features discussions among some of the Republican Party's most conservative lawmakers, a relatively new group -- most have served only a term or two -- that espouses the ideals of the Tea Party.

"This bill was designed to get bipartisan backing and not conservative backing," added Mulvaney, who was elected in the 2010 Tea Party "wave" election.

Rep. Jim Jordon, R-Ohio, noted that Republicans earlier this year pledged to protect in any budget deal the sequester-level spending cuts that would reduce overall federal spending by tens of billions of dollars. Now GOP lawmakers must decide whether to back a compromise that partially restores those cuts, lifting annual spending to just over $1 trillion.

"Eleven months ago our conference made a decision," Jordan said, "to focus on this goal and it was real simple: We will not get rid of the sequester, unless and until we get big savings in mandatory programs, and real changes that will save those programs and put our nation on a path to balance within the next 10 years."

The Ryan-Murray deal calls for spending $1.012 trillion in 2014. The two-year budget would restore about $63 billion of the sequester cuts and raise new revenues through a series of increase government fees.

The deal does nothing to curb Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security costs, which conservatives believe are the main drivers of the debt and which they insisted on in exchange for any additional spending.

The agreement also leaves untouched Obamacare, the new health care law that Republicans in October pushed so hard to defund. House and Senate leaders made it clear they didn't want to risk a second government shutdown in January.

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and chief negotiator, defended the agreement against conservative criticism, saying that most of the sequester will be preserved over the long-term. Critics, however, labeled the deal a gimmick, noting there was no guarantee the savings would be created in the future.

"The Democrats wanted the sequester to be completely lifted, completely gone," Ryan said, making the case for his compromise deal restoring just some of the money

Despite the criticism from the right flank, the proposal will likely pass with the majority of Republicans and most Democrats as well.

Unlike the budget showdown in October, Republican leaders are not even talking about whether it would be politically risky to pass legislation that's also supported by Democrats.

The polls, responding to the botched Obamacare rollout, have shifted in the GOP's favor since October and most GOP lawmakers aren't willing to risk losing this sudden new advantage with the 2014 election looming.

"Face it," Mulvaney said, "we don't have the votes to sway the outcome here."

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner