House approves budget deal in big 266-167 vote

Cameron Lancaster

House lawmakers in both parties joined forces Wednesday to pass a sweeping budget deal that marks both a parting victory for outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerNew Trump campaign boss took shots at Ryan on radio show Election reveals Paul Ryan to be worst speaker in U.S. history Getting rid of ObamaCare means getting rid of Hillary MORE (R-Ohio) and a valedictory gift for his likely replacement, Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanClinton, Trump sharpen attacks Donald Trump hasn’t moved an inch on immigration Politicians share pup pics for National Dog Day MORE (R-Wis.).

The final vote was 266 to 167, with 79 Republicans joining every Democrat in sealing passage. Ryan was among the supporters.

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The legislation, which raises federal spending levels and expands the government's borrowing authority, would push two of Congress's fiercest fiscal fights well beyond next year's elections, avoiding potential standoffs with President Obama and easing Ryan's transition into the Speaker's chair.

The package drew fierce opposition from conservative Republicans, who denounced both the secret talks that produced it and the policy provisions featured within, particularly the spending hikes and the debt-ceiling increase.

That vexation was on full display during Wednesday's vote — more than half the Republicans bucked their leadership to vote no — but their opposition was not enough to prevent a coalition of Democrats, budget hawks and Boehner allies from approving the measure.

Leaders worked to shrink the level of opposition in the hours before the vote. Farm state lawmakers furious over additional cuts to crop insurance that were included to help pay for the bill were ultimately won over after leaders promised to scrap those cuts in upcoming appropriations legislation.

The vote sends the proposal to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellClinton, Trump sharpen attacks Sanders, Merkley back McConnell decision to skip TPP vote John McCain: No longer a profile in courage MORE (R-Ky.), one of the bill's chief architects, has vowed to take it up quickly. Senate Republicans are facing a tough election cycle next year, and McConnell has fought to eliminate the threat that his candidates will be damaged by another pitched budget fight next year.

That effort will be delayed by a promised filibuster from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a 2016 presidential hopeful opposed to the higher spending caps and hike to the debt ceiling. But the measure is expected to sail through the upper chamber with bipartisan support early next week, sending the package to the White House for Obama's signature.

The Treasury Department says there's little time to spare, warning that the government would begin to default on its obligations on Nov. 3 if Congress failed to raise the debt limit before then.

For Ryan, Wednesday's vote was an early test for the reluctant young leader. Although the Ways and Means Committee chairman has built a reputation for a devotion to fiscal conservatism, he's also been the target of far-right lawmakers and activists wary that he'll be too willing to compromise across the aisle — attacks fueled by his role in securing a bipartisan budget deal in 2013.

As a clear sign of that skepticism, only 200 Republicans voted to nominate Ryan for Speaker in a closed-door meeting of the GOP conference just hours before the budget vote — a figure short of the 218 he'll need to secure the gavel on the House floor Thursday. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), the pick of the conservative Freedom Caucus, won 43 votes.

However, many of those conservatives are expected to ultimately back Ryan in a full House vote Thursday, handing the Speaker's gavel to the 45-year-old lawmaker who was the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee.

That same bloc of conservatives has long accused Boehner of ceding too much power in negotiations with Obama and the Democrats, and their threats to topple the Ohio Republican drove him to an early retirement.

Hoping to avoid similar fire, Ryan was careful not to participate directly in the recent budget talks, which were conducted by the White House and staffers for Boehner, McConnell, Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidDems' Florida Senate primary nears its bitter end Trump haunts McCain's reelection fight 10 most expensive House races MORE (D-Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Ryan also hammered the closed-door negotiations as the type of process he's hoping to excise. 

Still, he voted in favor of the package, saying it “will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us.”

The two-year budget accord provides modest relief across a host of policy priorities, giving lawmakers some breathing room after years of lurching from deadline-driven crisis to deadline-driven crisis.

The deal would officially retire the debt-limit battles that were central to Obama’s feuds with congressional Republicans for the last several years. The package would suspend the borrowing cap until March 16, 2017, leaving the next needed hike to fall under the next president.

The deal also busts spending caps previously set by the sequester provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act, increasing funding by $80 billion through September 2017, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs.

The accord also provides additional funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, an off-budget pool used to finance military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and operations in Afghanistan.

Additionally, the package makes some changes to entitlement programs, averting a pending premium hike for many Medicare enrollees, while extending a 2 percent cut in payments to Medicare providers and limiting outpatient payouts under the popular seniors program.

Social Security’s disability trust fund gets a much-needed cash injection by peeling off a portion of payroll taxes to cover it. The deal also closes a loophole that allowed wealthy beneficiaries to manipulate their benefits to maximize retirement credits.

In a nod to conservatives, the deal also includes stricter rules for people seeking Social Security disability, requiring more physician proof.