In a rare instance of bipartisanship the House of Representatives passed Thursday evening, Dec. 12, 2013 by a large majority the two-year budget bill 332 to 94 making sure at least for the near future there will be no threat or possibility of a government shutdown. The budget committee assigned to create the spending bill came to an agreement for a two-year budget deal, on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 10 with three days to spare until the Dec. 13 deadline. The deal ensures that the country will avoid another government shutdown on Jan. 15, 2013 when the current stop-gap spending bill expires. The Senate will vote on the budget bill next week, it expected to pass, but faces opposition from Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY and some Conservative Republicans.
The huge majority passing the budget bill was a strange instance in the Republican controlled House considering that an almost equal amount of Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of the two-year budget; 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats. The bill also received opposition from both parties however, as was expected a large number of Republicans voted against the bill, among them fiscal conservatives and members of the Tea Party. In the end, 62 Republicans voted against the bill, while 32 Democrats who found the budget still cut spending too much had the luxury to vote against the bill, seeing that there was still a Republican majority voting in favor. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI who crafted the bill articulated that; "We see this as a step in the right direction on the way toward our ultimate goal." After the vote the House adjourned for the holiday season much to Democrats dismay since the emergency unemployment benefits set to expire Dec. 28 had not been extended either through the budget or through separate legislation.
In October, as part of the ending the 16-day government shutdown, a budget conference committee was tasked with coming up with a budget suitable for the both Democratic controlled Senate, the Republican House and President Obama. The committee consisted of 29 lawmakers from both the House and Senate, and was bipartisan consisting of 15 Democratic and 14 Republican members. The leaders of the committee were Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI the chairman of the House Budget Committee and Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee. The committee had until Dec. 13 to come to an agreement so a bill can be passed before January when the short-term spending bill times out. The budget conference had two goals in creating their 2014 budget; determine spending allotment for 2014 and substitute the sequester cuts, both of which they met with the deal that just passed.
The two leaders of the budget committee announced the deal in a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 10. They stated that although it might not satisfy everyone in the Congress in the House or Senate, the agreement was the best that could be created, because of the intense partisanship in Congress and Washington in general. Rep. Ryan explained; "I see this agreement as a step in the right direction. In divided government, you don't always get what we want. That said, we can still make progress to our goals.... I deal with the way things are, not the way I necessarily want them to be."
While Sen. Murray also acknowledged it imperfect, but demonstrates the ability of Congress to work together; "I'm confident that we won’t have 100 percent of the Senate or 100 percent of the House. What the American people ought to know: This Congress can work. People can come from very different corners and find common ground.” She also emphasized that it ends the devastating effects of government shutdowns; "We have lurched from crisis to crisis and from one cliff to the next. And when one countdown clock was stopped it wasn't too long before the next one got started. That uncertainty was devastating to our fragile economic recovery."
The budget framework outlines government spending for the next two fiscal years 2014 and 2015, each year's budget will be "just over a trillion," more than 2013's budget, capping spending at "$1.012 trillion in fiscal year 2014, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015." The budget also replaces the sequester cuts, the unpopular across the board budget cuts. There is less headway in reducing the deficit, but there is still some effort included with "targeted spending cuts." To please Democrats there were no cuts to Social Security and Medicare and neither are their funding part of the yearly spending cap. With the deal, alternative methods for harnessing revenue are included, but there are no new taxes or tax increases. The budget agreement is being called modest, in that it essentially just secures government stability, neither a Democratic or Republican victory, but one for bipartisanship.
Fiscal Conservatives and members of the Tea Party were already balking at the deal, especially with the coaxing and pressure from outside Conservative groups. Ryan who was the Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, has usually been the author of extremely partisan budgets that never passed beyond House Republican votes and support. The House Budget Chairman will now be known more this partisan budget than any of his previous work however, he now faces opposition from Tea Party conservatives.
Ryan used that solid conservative voice in the House to sell the budget to reluctant conservatives and members of the Tea Party. At the Press Conference he included his sales pitch; the budget does not "sacrifice" Republican "core principles;" "I have every reason to expect great support from our caucus because we are keeping our principles. The key here is nobody had to sacrifice their core principles. Our principles are: Don't raise taxes, reduce the deficit."
Despite the deal House Republicans were restless and not satisfied, with a vote set for Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH was hoping not to face embarrassment as he had in the past, if Tea Party members break rank and choose not to vote for the budget deal. He held two news conferences in the days after the budget announcement to ensure to limit the influence of outside conservative organizations. The Speaker also endorsed the deal, stating; "While modest in scale, positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings."
Speaker Boehner gave a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 11, trying to convince the conservative members of the House not to listen to outside groups. At the same time Boehner who was visibly angry lambasted outside groups for interfering; "They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you are for more deficit reduction, you are for this agreement."
The Speaker held another press conference just hours before the House vote on Thursday, in what amounted to a "full-scale civil war" with the Tea Party faction and outside groups that pressure mainstream Republicans. Boehner angrily expressed; "I don't care what they do… Well, frankly, I think they're misleading their followers. 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." Despite the Right's opposition, the budget deal still passed the House on Thursday.
While Boehner supports the budget deal, the Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes it because it eliminates the sequester cuts, which lowered the deficit. McConnell suggested he might vote against the bill, when it comes to a Senate vote next week. His opposition however, will not deter the Senate from actually passing the budget. McConnell is not the only Republican in the Senate to oppose the bill, other conservatives do as well including; Sens. Marco Rubio, R-FL, Rand Paul, R-KY, Ted Cruz, R-TX, Mike Lee, R-UT, and the top, Jeff Sessions, R-AL, who serves as the "top ranking Republican on the Budget Committee." This is also a rare break between Republican leadership in House and Senate, but McConnell is facing a Tea Party primary challenger in his quest for re-election, and cannot alienate the conservative base by acting as a conciliator.
Support for the budget bill did not necessarily mean it was enthusiastic; mostly it was acceptance that it is a necessity to be passed to move forward on other issues, rather than stagnate. On the House floor Speaker Boehner stated; "Is it perfect? Does it go far enough? No, not at all. I think its going to take a lot more work to get our arms around our debt and our deficit but this budget is a positive, positive step in that direction. It's progress. Its doing what the American people expect us to do." While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA said; "We fought it to a draw. Let's get to it. Let's get her off the table. Let's move on to addressing specific issues."
Even President Barack Obama the GOP's most ardent critic-in-chief gave his stamp of acceptance on the budget bill, even though he made sure to include his reservations in his statement issued on Tuesday, Dec. 10; "This agreement doesn't include everything I'd like - and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That's the nature of compromise. But it's a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of shortsighted, crisis-driven decision making to get this done." The President plans to sign the bill into law.
The mere fact the Democrats and Republicans were able to come any deal, brings hope that could be "ushering in a new era" where the two parties might be able to work together and actually pass some legislation. This was the first bipartisan budget agreement made with a "split Congress" since the Reagan era in 1986. The deal comes after one of the most unproductive years in Congress, each new prospective legislation meeting standstill after standstill. Congress in total only passed 55 laws, even though they spent much more time in chambers than other more productive years. The Boston Globe expressed it right "Even the infamous "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948 did more," and they did, passing 511 laws.
The House officially finishes off the work for the year after the budget vote, while the Senate goes on until Dec. 20, reconvening next in January; both Houses were trying to pass as much of legislative until then. The Senate has been working marathon 24-hour sessions confirming President Obama's nominations. The House, however, will not be able to deal with two of the President's major legislative priorities; immigration reform, and the outstanding Farm Bill that has not been renewed since it expired at the end of September. Both of those issues will be dealt with after the holiday vacation in January, and which will hopefully be a more productive year in Congress leading up to the midterm elections.
House Vote 640 - Passes Bipartisan Budget Bill, NYT, Dec. 12, 2013
On Motion to Recede and Concur in the Senate Amendment with Amendment Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014, Dec. 12, 2013 -- Full text of the bill »
President Barack Obama's Statement on the Budget, Dec. 10, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.