WASHINGTON — The general mood on Capitol Hill this week, culminating the House’s 332-94 Thursday night passage of a two-year budget plan, was one of relief.
The budget bill rolls back sequestration cuts over the next two years and doesn’t touch entitlement spending, which pleased Democrats. It cuts the deficit and raises a bit of revenue without increasing taxes, which was what Republicans wanted. And both sides got the chance to claim a bipartisan victory at the end of a year filled with dysfunction, partisan bickering and very few accomplishments to show for any of it.
Ideological hard-liners, like Reps. Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann, voted against the deal Thursday, but everyone else from Minnesota said it was an acceptable deal, even if it’s much smaller than anyone would have liked.
“There are always a few who you could never get it good enough,” Republican Rep. John Kline said, “But by and large, I think people will be pleased.”
Republicans not in the mood for a fight
House budget chief Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray announced their plan on Tuesday night and by Wednesday a consensus had formed: both sides like, but will never love, it.
For Republicans, there was deficit reduction, $85 billion of it over 10 years, and Ryan earned praise for finding a way to do it without raising taxes.
“I think most of us on our side of the aisle were hoping early on for a much bigger deal, bigger reform in entitlement spending,” Kline said. “Given the climate that we’re in and everything that is happening, I think Paul Ryan did an excellent job, he managed to hit some very key points that are very important to a lot of Americans and certainly to a lot of Republicans. He did it without a tax increase; he did it with some long-term deficit reduction. I just think he did a really fine job.”
House Republican leadership was thoroughly unwilling to fight over the budget plan, either with Democrats (who didn’t put up much of a fight anyway) or with their conservative wing. Speaker John Boehner slapped down outside conservative groups as “ridiculous” for opposing the deal on Wednesday; by Thursday he said the groups had “lost all credibility.”
Sixty-two Republicans in total voted no, including Bachmann. But she even had kind words for the deal, praising Ryan for his work and crediting the budget with providing “some much-needed certainty to job creators and small business owners.”
But, she said in a statement, “ultimately this deal is too far removed from the balanced budget that the American people deserve, which is why I could not support it.”
Rep. Erik Paulsen said he was “disappointed with the agreement … but while modest in scale, it represents a concrete step in the right direction” toward addressing fiscal issues.
Democrats object, but not enough to vote no
Democrats had a smattering of reservations with the deal, but it didn’t cost the budget many of their votes in the House.
The bill restores $65 billion in sequestration over the next two years, undoing cuts in both defense and domestic spending programs, which was a major Democratic priority. It raises some revenue, as well, though it doesn’t close tax loopholes, a common Democratic demand during fiscal discussions over the last few years.
Instead, it calls for more fees from airlines and higher pension payments from federal employees. For many, like Ellison, that’s a problem.
“We’re looking this thing like, isn’t it great we averted a shutdown,” he said. “I think we ought to be looking at this thing like, for the past several years federal employees have gotten hit: pay freezes, shutdowns, furloughs. You add it all up, so the cumulative effect is devastating, and it makes people not want to work for the federal government.”
Ellison gave a speech before the vote opposing the end of an emergency unemployment benefits program, which has rankled Democrats as well. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the matter could come up next month. On Thursday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the bill “not the major deal that would create, I think, the kind of balanced deal we need going forward for years, but I do think it’s a very positive step in the right direction.”
That’s how most Democrats assessed the deal. Rep. Betty McCollum, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, which will be tasked with filling in the details of this deal, said it “puts the needs of the country ahead of the politics of shutdown and governing by crisis,” and “avoids the prospect of another government shutdown.”
Thursday night’s vote was the House’s last in 2013. Rep. Tim Walz said small deals like that one might be one way to break through the bitter partisanship that has characterized Washington all year long.
“I’m more of a big deal guy, I like that idea better, but I also realize it comes with a lot of pitfalls, it comes with a lot of difficulty,” Walz said. But “in this environment, I’m certainly willing to take incremental wins over the big ones.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry