House budget vote illuminates GOP split

Posted at 8:36 AM, Dec 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-12 10:36:10-05

By Deirdre Walsh and Tom Cohen

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Ever present but rarely so public, the rift between conservative and moderate Republicans over policy and tactics has been on full display ahead of Thursday’s House vote on a compromise federal budget worked out with Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner lashed out at conservative groups opposed to the budget deal, accusing them on Wednesday of “using our members and using the American people for their own goals.”

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, labeled the opposition by groups such as Conservative Action as “ridiculous” and noted some of them denounced the bipartisan budget agreement before it was announced Tuesday.

The agreement reached GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his Senate counterpart, Democrat Patty Murray, would avert another government shutdown in January such as the one that closed the government for 16 days in October.

Republicans received the brunt of the blame for that shutdown, and Boehner and other leaders want to avoid such confrontational tactics favored by tea party conservatives seeking drastic spending and deficit reduction.

Many rank-and-file Republicans signaled they could back the deal and predicted it would pass the House on Thursday. The measure will likely need support from minority Democrats because some conservative Republicans are expected to oppose it.

If the House passes it, the budget plan then would need approval by the Democratic-led Senate to reach President Barack Obama’s desk. The White House supports the agreement in its present form, but factions on both sides are pushing for changes.

Liberal Democrats insist the budget plan should extend long-term unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the issue would be considered separately next year.

Deal aims to avert shutdown

The agreement sets government spending at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year that runs through September, and $1.014 trillion for the following year.

It would eliminate $45 billion from the next round of largely unpopular forced federal spending cuts — known as sequestration — that are set to hit in January as well as another $18 billion scheduled for 2015.

Overall, it proposes to save $85 billion and would reduce the deficit by more than $20 billion once the money spared from sequestration is factored in, budget leaders said.

Boehner’s comments to reporters were aimed at some of the same organizations that have effectively pressured House Republicans to resist compromising on budget issues in the past two years.

They include Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Freedom Works, Heritage Action and the Koch brothers, GOP campaign financiers.

He made similar comments questioning the motives of some of the groups at a closed-door meeting with all House Republicans to discuss the agreement.

Diminished impact apparent

The speaker told members that “no one controls your voting card but you,” according to a GOP source in the meeting.

An attempt by conservative legislators led by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to link government spending to dismantling Obamacare led to this fall’s shutdown.

Now, strong GOP backing for the budget compromise would show that conservatives and the outside groups that back them have diminished influence, at least for now.

Rep. John Fleming, a conservative from Louisiana, said outside groups won’t be able to sway as many conservatives because legislators like the idea of returning Congress to what’s known as regular order — deliberating and passing bills the way they’re supposed to be done, instead of backroom deals reached amid crises.

However, GOP Rep Raul Labrador of Idaho, a critic of the budget plan, wondered what had changed among fellow Republicans who now rejected the thinking of the outside conservative groups.

The conservative groups keep scorecards on the voting records of legislators and back candidates who follow their policy stances with key campaign contributions. Such support can carry enhanced influence with congressional elections coming up next year.

Conservative criticism

Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, didn’t back down from his criticism of the budget deal.

“Over the next few days, lawmakers will have to explain to their constituents, many of whom are our members, what they’ve achieved by increasing spending, increasing taxes and offering up another round of promises waiting to be broken. That will be a really tough sell back home,” Holler said in a statement to CNN.

Ryan, the chief negotiator of the deal, gave what even opponents called a stellar closed-door presentation on the budget plan to fellow Republicans on Wednesday.

Top House Republican leaders also told their members they recognized some were disappointed with the proposal. But it met their test to continue reducing the deficit and was a good deal given the political limitations on Capitol Hill.

“It’s the best compromise you can get in divided government,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, agreeing with Ryan’s argument for supporting the deal.

Fleming, who tends to vote against any compromise of conservative principles on economic issues, said Ryan gave a convincing argument that, in the long run, the bipartisan deal begins to address excess spending that Republicans rail against often.

Rep. Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican, told reporters he planned to vote “no” because he is disappointed the agreement doesn’t do more to address the biggest contributors to the debt and deficit, which he identified as social safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s an incredibly small baby step,” said Salmon, conceding that the measure would ultimately pass.

Sequester cuts, security fee

Other Republicans will oppose it for other reasons, such as the decision to ease the sequester or the proposal to increase the fee paid by airline passengers to help cover federal aviation security costs. Some see that move as a tax hike.

Because of the GOP opposition, Democrats will have to join Republicans for the budget deal to pass.

Although Democrats have different problems with the budget agreement, several came out of their Wednesday meeting saying they expect the proposal to pass before the House leaves town for the holidays this week.

“I’ll hold my nose and vote ‘yes,’ ” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.

He has federal workers in his suburban Washington-area district who would have to contribute more to their federal pensions as a result of the deal.

CNN’s Dana Bash and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

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