House Republicans turn from dissent to unity in budget votes

House Republicans turn from dissent to unity in budget votes

For House Republicans, what a difference a day makes.

On Thursday, 59 members of the GOP conference broke with leadership to oppose a 2011 spending compromise, ignoring pleas for support from Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio).

Twenty-four hours later, the party turned to the 2012 budget blueprint and won a near-unanimous endorsement from rank-and-file Republicans on a proposal to slash nearly $6 trillion over the next decade. All but four GOP lawmakers backed the plan, with just one member of the feisty freshman class, Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyBipartisan former EPA chiefs say Trump administration has abandoned agency's mission Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Divisions emerge over House drug price bills MORE (W.Va.), opposing it. Every Democrat opposed the bill.

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Afterward, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was crowing. 

“The budgets are the hardest [bills] to pass in Congress, we’re always told. Look at what’s transpired,” he told reporters off the House floor.

The vote was a needed victory for McCarthy, who, according to a congressional source, was forced to ask his Democratic counterpart, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), for help assuring passage of the 2011 spending agreement.

In 2009 by contrast, 20 Democrats voted against their party’s budget blueprint. House Democrats didn’t even attempt a full budget in 2010, knowing it would not have the votes to pass in the Senate. 

Top Democrats in the Senate have said that the GOP's 2012 budget is dead on arrival.

The Republican majority held strong despite heavy pressure from Democrats who warned that the budget authored by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) would be a top campaign issue in 2012. President Obama issued a harsh condemnation of the GOP proposal on Wednesday, calling it a “deeply pessimistic” plan that “would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known.”

GOP leaders were also able to fend off a procedural maneuver by Democrats, who used “present” votes to try to force Republicans to adopt a more conservative alternative to the Ryan proposal. Republicans were briefly tripped up by the stunt, but they were able to hold the final vote on the budget as planned.

McCarthy credited the success to an inclusive process, saying the budget was the first bill of the new Republican majority in which leaders were able to listen to members and incorporate their views. From the outset of the 112th Congress, McCarthy and Ryan held budget tutorials with groups of freshmen to acquaint them with the process and solicit their opinions. 

When the bill came to the floor, the result wasn’t a surprise to the leadership, who predicted Friday morning that the budget would earn “a resounding vote” of support.

“We’ve been working on this the last two and a half months,” McCarthy said. “If you prepare ahead of time, you’re in a better position.”

The California congressman contrasted the process of crafting the budget with the more difficult sell of the 2011 spending agreement. While GOP leaders won praise for holding an open amendment process during initial passage of the House bill in February, the final deal was hashed out behind closed doors between BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump thanks Reid for warning Democrats not to underestimate him Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment MORE (D-Nev.) and their deputies. Republicans barely adhered to a three-day waiting period for bills to come for a vote, and a report from the Congressional Budget Office caused confusion about the bill’s actual impact on the deficit.

The party rank-and-file had a better understanding of the budget blueprint, McCarthy said.

“Here members all had input from the very beginning,” he said.

Not every GOP member agreed, however. In a statement explaining his opposition, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) said the budget left “too many unanswered questions” about the future of Medicare.

“It’s being rushed through with little to no public input. That’s just plain wrong,” said Rehberg, who is running for a Senate seat. “Montanans deserve a chance to weigh in on this.”