US lawmakers in the lower House of Representatives approved on Thursday a compromise budget deal that will avert a costly government shutdown and minimize damage from across the board spending cuts.
The deal worked out by House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray passed on a 332-94 vote and now goes to the Democratic-led Senate, which is expected to approve it next week in a very close vote.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a chief GOP architect of the deal, made the conservatives’ case for support. The measure “reduces the deficit by $23 billion. It does not raise taxes and it cuts spending in a smarter way,” said the Budget Committee’s chairman, whose handiwork could well be challenged in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.
The second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, joined other party leaders in swinging behind the measure, even though he noted that he represents 62,000 federal workers and said future government employees will pay higher pensions costs because of the bill. “This agreement is better than the alternative” of ever deeper across-the-board cuts, he said.
The agreement, negotiated by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — and endorsed by the White House — would set overall spending levels for the current budget year and the one that begins on Oct. 1, 2014. That straightforward action would probably eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown and reduce the opportunity for the periodic brinkmanship of the kind that has flourished in the current three-year era of divided government.
The measure would erase $63 billion in across-the-board cuts set for January and early 2015 on domestic and defense programs, leaving about $140 billion in reductions in place. On the other side of the budget ledger, it projects savings totaling $85 billion over the coming decade, enough to show a deficit reduction of about $23 billion over the 10-year period.
The cuts would be replaced with savings generated from dozens of sources. Among them are higher airline security fees, curbs on the pension benefits of new federal workers and additional costs for corporations whose pensions are guaranteed by the federal government. The measure also would slow the annual cost-of-living increase in benefits for military retirees under the age of 62.
The bill includes a 90-day provision that postpones a 20 percent cut in reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients and replaces it with an increase of one-half of one percent.
Oklahoma Congressmen Markwayne Mullin and Jim Bridenstine voted against the bill; Tom Cole, James Lankford and Frank Lucas voted for it.
Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, one of several Senate hopefuls from his state, said he would vote against the legislation. He said the existing across-the-board cuts “have a tendency to cut out muscle with fat, but it’s still the only tool in town for cutting spending.”
Rep. Tom Cotton, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, announced his opposition, too, and said the legislation “busts the spending caps that took effect just months ago by spending billions now in exchange for supposed long-term spending cuts.”
Other Republicans said despite shortcomings, the bill was the best the party could get in divided government.
Lawmakers will also have to confront another dollars-and-cents deadline come early February, when the most recent extension of the debt limit expires. Though Republicans had previously tried to use that deadline as leverage to extract concessions from Obama and congressional Democrats, they might be disinclined to try that again after being chastened by this October’s showdown.