Politics

December 12, 2013

House passes bipartisan budget; Boehner blasts Tea Party groups

The 332-94 vote sends the measure to the Senate, where it will almost certainly pass and be sent to President Obama.

By David Espo
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes reporters' questions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. Battle-fatigued and suddenly bipartisan, the House voted Thursday night to ease across-the-board federal spending cuts and prevent future government shutdowns.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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The combination of short-term spending increases and long-term savings would send deficits higher for the current budget year and each of the next two, a dramatic departure from the conservative orthodoxy that Republicans have enforced since taking control of the House three years ago.

That was a step too far for many Republicans, including some seeking election to the Senate next year.

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.

“We have Republican and Democratic-controlled houses and as a result no one solution is possible,” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California. Echoing Boehner’s sentiments, he said of the outside groups, “What do they want, another government shutdown? If so, they ought to run for Congress.”

Democrats were conflicted, but for different reasons.

There was general support for easing across-the-board reductions in programs like education, Head Start and transportation – deficit reduction that Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York called a disaster. Yet Democrats were unhappy that the measure lacked an extension of unemployment benefits due to expire on Dec. 28.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland asked for a separate vote on that issue, but Republicans refused. The expiring program provides benefits to unemployed workers who have been without work for more than 26 weeks. The cost of a one-year extension was put at $25 billion.

The debate on the House floor was overshadowed by Boehner’s comments at his news conference.

The speaker, who famously says he is not affected by stress, has been criticized by some Republicans this year who accuse him of buckling under pressure from outside groups and their allies in the rank and file. He was elected to a second term as speaker in January after an attempt by some rebels to oust him collapsed.

The October shutdown seemed on Boehner’s mind.

“They pushed us into this fight to defund ‘Obamacare’ and to shut down the government. ... That wasn’t exactly the strategy that I had in mind,” he said. “But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people that – one of these groups stood up and said, well, we never really thought it would work. Are you kidding me?”

Boehner’s remarks were part of a broader response by the Republican establishment as it struggles to counter the influence of organizations like Heritage Action, the Club For Growth, and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

The Senate Republican campaign organization, effectively an extension of the leadership, let it be known it would not give any business to Jamestown Associates, an advertising firm that has worked for the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Republican officials have urged traditional political allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to step up their involvement in campaigns as a way to counter the influence of tea party-aligned groups, and in one or two cases, have noted with satisfaction that particularly hard-line rebels in the House will face primary challengers next year.

Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, rebuffed Boehner’s accusation that opposition to the legislation was uninformed.

“Everything was widely known about what this deal was. We were concerned it was going to increase spending in the near term, and it does. We were concerned it was going to increase deficits in the near term and it does.”

The Club for Growth issued a statement that took no note of Boehner’s comments. It urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation, calling it “a deliberate attempt to avoid modest but much needed spending cuts in exchange for the promise of spending cuts in the future.”

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