Bipartisan budget deal appears to have the votes to pass

Greg Nash

The House as early as Wednesday is poised to approve a two-year deal to raise spending caps and the debt limit, averting a potential federal default next week and a government shutdown later this year.

The legislation, which would increase discretionary spending by $112 billion over fiscal 2016 and 2017, has drawn ire from many Republicans and conservative-leaning advocacy groups for busting spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).

{mosads}But lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol predicted on Tuesday that the bill would pass, carried in the House by a coalition of defense hawks, Democrats and Republicans loyal to outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“I think every Democrat will vote for it and there will be enough Republicans in the conference that ultimately the deal will be passed. That doesn’t mean I agree with it,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a veteran conservative.

Two House Freedom Caucus members told The Hill as many as 100 House Republicans could ultimately vote for the deal, which would be a feather in Boehner’s cap as he prepares to leave Congress at the end of the week.

“It will be a big bipartisan vote,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he plans to take up the measure as soon as the House approves it, likely setting up a final vote next week if conservative opponents, such as White House hopeful Ted Cruz (R-Texas), throw up procedural hurdles.

The goal is to pass the bill by Nov. 3, the deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for raising the debt limit. 

McConnell praised the deal, claiming President Obama capitulated on his stance not to negotiate over the debt limit.

“The debt ceiling is a part of it and it has along with it other matters, including what we have said from the beginning was essential to get Republican support for raising the debt ceiling, which is entitlement reform of some significance,” he said of the deal.

“The disability provisions of this agreement are the first major reform of Social Security since 1983, the deal between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill,” he added.

Still, some House and Senate conservatives are unhappy with the agreement, objecting that it raises the budget caps that were established four years ago after a grueling summer of negotiations with Obama.

“The greatest concerns we should have is since 2011 the BCA provided us with a real glide path to keeping spending in check and we are now getting ready to completely destroy those caps,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

Their grumblings were amplified by a Congressional Budget Office analysis that projected the agreement would increase budget authorization by $89.7 billion, but only pay $75.7 billion of the costs.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is expected to succeed Boehner as Speaker this week, distanced himself from the package, telling CNN that the process “stinks.”

Conservatives on Capitol Hill, though, suspect Boehner would never have signed off on the agreement without first consulting Ryan.

Despite their fuming, conservatives admitted the deal is likely to pass, because opponents have done little to lay the groundwork for an alternative plan, having been consumed by the race to replace Boehner.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who helped craft the proposal, said it represents “real progress” for America’s seniors and working class, and her troops were quick to echo that message.

“It’s a compromise and it moves us forward,” she said. “I’m positive about it.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who opposed a similar budget deal negotiated between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in 2013, said the new agreement doesn’t extend long enough, but that he will support as an improvement over the status quo.

Democratic leaders are not formally whipping Wednesday’s vote, but they are keeping a vote count to ensure the package passes, according to a leadership aide.

The biggest potential hurdle in the lower chamber is the vote on the procedural rule setting the parameters of the floor debate. Democrats often vote against floor rules to put pressure on GOP leaders to keep their ranks unified.

Hoyer said that, while party leaders have yet to discuss their approach to the rule vote, he’s inclined to support it if that’s what it takes to bring the bill to the floor.

 Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, was among the very few Democrats to come out against the accord.  

“We made major cuts when we wrote the farm bill,” he said. “It is not appropriate to cut agriculture again. The farm bill should not be raided. I oppose any cuts.”

The deal has stirred the fury of farm-state senators who are upset leaders decided to cut a crop insurance program by an estimated $3 billion.

“I will continue to oppose any attempts to cut crop insurance funding or to change crop insurance program policies. I will continue to protect this critical risk-management tool and successful public-private partnership. I will vote against this deal,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

 Democrats were initially concerned by rumors that the budget pact would have substantially cut Social Security disability payments, but felt reassured after delving into the details.

The agreement requires a professional medical evaluation upfront for people who apply for disability aid, something that some Democrats warned could delay benefits.

“Right now there have been long delays in the award of these disability payments. I want to find out whether anything we’re doing in the budget agreement impacts that one way or the other,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

“I think it’s not too bad,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said of the deal before ducking into the chamber for an afternoon vote. He has frequently called for protecting Social Security while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

After huddling Tuesday morning in the Capitol with Pelosi, even the most liberal lawmakers suggested they would back the proposal.

“My biggest concern was how it was going to treat Social Security disability,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), “and the questions I got answered so far have allayed some of my concerns. 

“So I’m going to keep studying it,” he added, “but at this point I don’t have any fire alarms going off.”  

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the other co-chairman of the CPC, is also backing the package. 

Senate Democratic leaders by and large claimed victory, noting that McConnell wanted to avoid a budget summit and instead pass spending bills at levels set by the GOP budget passed earlier this year.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) predicted almost every member of the Democratic caucus would support the deal.

“I feel confident that the vast majority of the Democrats will,” he said.

Last updated at 8:30 p.m.


Tags Bernie Sanders Boehner Dick Durbin Harry Reid Jack Lew John Boehner Matt Salmon Mitch McConnell Pat Roberts Patty Murray Paul Ryan Ted Cruz Tim Scott
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