House passes final Ryan budget

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The House on Thursday passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) final budget in a 219 to 205 vote as Republicans charged into a midterm election battle with Democrats over the size of government.

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The passage of the fiscal 2015 budget resolution is a significant victory for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team, which spent days whipping votes for the bill. The 12 defections were greater than the 10 defections in last year’s budget vote.

GOP leaders could have only afforded 18 total defections, and on the eve of the vote, it appeared the margin would be tight.

The 12 Republicans who voted against the budget were Reps. Paul Broun (Ga.), Rick Crawford (Ark.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Jack Kingston (Ga.), David Jolly (Fla.), Walter Jones (N.C.), David McKinley (W.Va.), Austin Scott (Ga.), Ralph Hall (Texas), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.). Eight lawmakers missed the vote.

Ryan touted the budget plan as contrasting the fiscal visions of the two parties.

“[Democrats] are proposing more control for Washington, less control for our communities, less control over our businesses, less control over our lives, less control over our futures,” Ryan said.

"Time and again they have offered to put government in the driver's seat," Ryan said. "We trust the people."

One of the challenges in passing the fiscal blueprint was tamping down conservative concerns that the budget didn’t cut deep enough into spending for fiscal 2015. The Ryan plan sticks to spending levels agreed to in the December budget deal — an agreement that 62 House Republicans voted against.

Leaders pointed out that the Ryan budget is broadly similar to previous plans that the House has backed every year since 2011. 

Like last year’s budget, the new blueprint would balance within 10 years by making $5 trillion in cuts to spending, while avoiding tax increases. It would make deep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, while converting Medicare to an optional private system for future seniors. 

Ryan’s plan — his last as chairman of the Budget Committee — will have no immediate effect on policy.

The Senate is not doing a budget resolution this year, and appropriators are already working from spending levels agreed in December. With the debt ceiling extended until next March, there is no deadline forcing lawmakers to enter into negotiations over entitlement programs or the tax code. 

“Unlike the Senate Democrats, who once again have punted, chosen not to even offer a budget his year, we trust the American people to make an honest assessment,” Ryan said.

The budget is likely to be a focal point in the upcoming midterm election cycle, and its passage will boost Ryan’s quest to become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee next year.

Democrats believe they can use the Ryan plan as a weapon in their battle to retake the House and hold the Senate. Republicans believe the budget’s message of fiscal responsibility through spending cuts will resonate with voters and bring out the conservative base.

"This Republican budget is the worst of the Republican budgets I've seen in the last three years,” House Budget ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rallied Democrats against the Ryan budget ahead of the vote with a floor speech that resembled a pep rally, with her troops expressing vocal support.

"If you believe in the middle class you must reject the Republican budget," Pelosi said. "They call their budget "The Path to Prosperity" but it is a road to recession."

Final passage of the budget came after the House rejected a Democratic alternative that never balanced. That plan reversed currently scheduled sequester cuts to social programs and sought to end corporate and individual tax breaks to pay for hundreds of billions in infrastructure spending. It was rejected in a 163-261 vote, with 31 Democrats voting "no." Many of the Democratic defectors are facing difficult reelection races.

A more conservative budget from the Republican Study Committee also failed 133-291, with 97 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it. That plan would have balanced within four years rather than 10 by making deeper discretionary spending cuts. It also contained a cut to Social Security benefits, which Ryan left untouched in his plan.

Of the GOP defections on the Ryan budget, Scott and LoBiondo were surprises, given their past support for the chairman's plans. LoBiondo is in a competitive race in a Democratic-leaning state.

Scott did not say why he voted against Ryan's budget this time around, although as a member of the Agriculture Committee, he had criticized Ryan for voting against a farm bill in 2013 that had been written to conform to Ryan's budget proposal. The new Ryan budget cuts farm subsidies by $23 billion below the farm bill.

"Today I voted for what I believed was the most conservative budget put forward, the RSC budget. I have great respect for Chairman Ryan and the work he has put into crafting solutions for our country,” Scott said in a statement.

Freshman Jolly won a close special election race in a district teeming with seniors who might be wary of Ryan's Medicare plan.

The House GOP budget sticks with the $1.014 trillion base discretionary spending level for in 2015 spending that Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) negotiated in December. 

Because the budget does not challenge that spending level, appropriators have already begun work on the 12 annual spending bills for fiscal 2015.

House appropriators approved two bills by voice vote this week and are aiming to have all moved through the lower chamber by the August recess.

— This story was last updated at 2:05 p.m. 

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