Holiday Miracle? Congress on Verge of Passing Budget

US Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) walks to a meeting with Senate Republicans at the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 16, 2013. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that a deal had been reached with Republican leaders to end a fiscal impasse that has threatened the United States with default. Reid, speaking from the Senate floor, said the agreement called for reopening the federal government with a temporary budget until January 15 and to extend US borrowing authority until February 7.
National Journal
Dec. 12, 2013, 3:40 p.m.

Bar­ring a melt­down in the Sen­ate next week — which re­mains a pos­sib­il­ity — Con­gress is on the verge of mak­ing a little mod­ern his­tory with House pas­sage Thursday night of a two-year budget bill that would fund the gov­ern­ment un­til Oc­to­ber 2015.

The 332-94 vote may bode well for pas­sage in the Sen­ate, which is ex­pec­ted but not as­sured due to Re­pub­lic­an con­cerns about bust­ing the spend­ing caps in the Budget Con­trol Act and a pro­vi­sion that would re­duce re­tire­ment be­ne­fits for mem­bers of the mil­it­ary.

If those con­cerns are over­come and the Sen­ate can muster 60 votes to move to the bill, it will mark the first time since 1997 that Con­gress has passed a com­plete budget.

To do that, Sen­ate Demo­crats will need five Re­pub­lic­ans to join them in vot­ing for clo­ture next week to get the bill to the floor. They are ex­pec­ted to get them, though many Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors are stay­ing mum about wheth­er they will back the budget deal craf­ted by Sen. Patty Mur­ray and Rep. Paul Ry­an.

A num­ber of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans said that they were wait­ing to see the vote mar­gin in the House be­fore mak­ing a de­term­in­a­tion. The over­whelm­ing House vote Thursday should help push some of those Sen­ate GOP votes in­to the “yes” column.

Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic vote-coun­ters have be­gun pre­lim­in­ary checks and ex­pect the le­gis­la­tion to pass with enough Re­pub­lic­ans vot­ing for clo­ture, ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide. The clo­ture vote could come as early as Monday, with a fi­nal vote on the bill Tues­day.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine could be among the Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port the meas­ure. Both said that they were still mak­ing a de­cision about wheth­er to vote in fa­vor of the bill, but in­dic­ated that they would like to pass a budget.

“I don’t like lots of pieces of what I’m see­ing in this budget,” Murkowski said Thursday. “But I think I’m at that point where to have an agree­ment, even though it may be im­per­fect, may be bet­ter than hav­ing no agree­ment at all.”

De­pend­ing on the num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans who vote for clo­ture, the Sen­ate aide said, some Demo­crats may vote against end­ing de­bate be­cause the le­gis­la­tion will not con­tain an ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, which is set to ex­pire Dec. 28.

In the House Thursday night, an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of House Re­pub­lic­ans lined up be­hind their lead­ers to ap­prove the budget plan that has in­furi­ated the party’s con­ser­vat­ive base. The bill passed with 169 Re­pub­lic­ans and 163 Demo­crats vot­ing in fa­vor.

“It was much high­er than I ex­pec­ted; I was very pleas­antly sur­prised,” Ry­an said of the vote. “I think people are hungry to do things around here…. I got so many of my col­leagues say­ing thank you for bring­ing some nor­malcy back to this place. I’m very pleased about that.”

But the agree­ment re­ceived some op­pos­i­tion from both parties, with 62 Re­pub­lic­ans and 32 Demo­crats op­pos­ing it. Demo­crats com­plained that the meas­ure does not ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits, and Re­pub­lic­ans cited con­cerns about eas­ing the se­quest­ra­tion cuts while rais­ing rev­en­ues. Sev­er­al ma­jor con­ser­vat­ive groups came out against the meas­ure, but the op­pos­i­tion had little im­pact.

One fas­cin­at­ing as­pect of the vote was an un­usu­al split among the House’s most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers.

Of the five-mem­ber “Jedi Coun­cil” group that worked to bridge the gap earli­er this year between House Speak­er John Boehner and House con­ser­vat­ives, three voted for the budget pro­pos­al and two voted against.

Reps. Tom Price of Geor­gia and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, both former chair­men of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, joined Ry­an in ap­prov­ing the meas­ure. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and cur­rent RSC Chair­man Steve Scal­ise of Louisi­ana op­posed the deal.

Scal­ise had been un­de­cided on the pro­pos­al since its un­veil­ing and re­fused to com­ment on which way he was lean­ing be­fore the vote. But after he fired the RSC’s long­time ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Paul Tell­er, on Wed­nes­day — a move that was heav­ily cri­ti­cized by out­side groups — Scal­ise would have en­dured even more right-wing op­pos­i­tion had he voted in fa­vor of the deal.

One of the biggest sur­prises of the night came when Rep. Tom Graves of Geor­gia, a lead­ing House con­ser­vat­ive who was the ar­chi­tect of the House GOP’s strategy to de­fund Obama­care, voted for the budget com­prom­ise. Graves, who sits on the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, had pre­vi­ously ex­pressed a de­sire to re­turn to “reg­u­lar or­der” in which ap­pro­pri­at­ors write spend­ing bills. Graves was greeted with a hearty round of hand­shakes from his col­leagues after re­gis­ter­ing his vote.

Else­where, some oth­er pop­u­lar House con­ser­vat­ives who were pre­vi­ously un­de­cided wound up split­ting on the vote. Rep. Dav­id Sch­weikert of Ari­zona, who sports a per­fect 100 per­cent on Her­it­age Ac­tion’s le­gis­lat­ive score­card, kept his per­fec­tion in­tact by op­pos­ing the meas­ure. On the flip side, Rep. Marlin Stutz­man of In­di­ana, viewed as a po­ten­tial suc­cessor to Scal­ise at the RSC, voted in fa­vor of the budget deal.

On the oth­er side of the aisle, Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er was the only mem­ber of Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship to op­pose the meas­ure, cit­ing both the lack of an ex­ten­sion for un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and the fact that the bill did not re­place all of the se­quest­ra­tion cuts. “The deal be­fore us today does not deal with the fun­da­ment­al is­sue of long-term fisc­al sta­bil­ity,” Hoy­er said on the House floor be­fore the vote.

Hoy­er was joined by Rep. Sander Lev­in, D-Mich., the rank­ing mem­ber on the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and a vo­cal sup­port­er for the un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance ex­ten­sion, in op­pos­ing the meas­ure.

On his fi­nal night of votes in the House, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., also op­posed the meas­ure. Watt was con­firmed by the Sen­ate on Tues­day to head the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency. A cadre of Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Hoy­er and Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, gathered on the House floor fol­low­ing the vote to bid Watt farewell.

The meas­ure rep­res­ents a small deal hashed out over months by Ry­an and Mur­ray, and it leaves many of the big ques­tions about fu­ture spend­ing — in­clud­ing en­ti­tle­ment and tax re­form — for an­oth­er day.

The House-passed budget bill sets top-line fund­ing levels at $1.012 tril­lion for fisc­al year 2014 and $1.014 tril­lion for fisc­al year 2015, while provid­ing $63 bil­lion in se­quester re­lief over two years, paid for through a com­bin­a­tion of fees and man­dat­ory sav­ings. The deal will also re­duce the de­fi­cit by $28 bil­lion over the next 10 years, Ry­an said.

The bill in­cludes an amend­ment that will ex­tend the “doc fix” for­mula, which is used to re­im­burse doc­tors un­der Medi­care, for three months, while con­gres­sion­al ne­go­ti­at­ors con­tin­ue to haggle over a long-term solu­tion.

The House has no re­main­ing votes be­fore mem­bers head home for the hol­i­days. Though the Sen­ate will re­main in ses­sion next week, the House will re­turn on Jan. 7.

Elahe Izadii and Billy House contributed to this article.
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