Thursday, November 23, 2017

House approves budget as a bipartisan bitter pill


WASHINGTON — Battle-fatigued and suddenly bipartisan, the House voted Thursday night to ease across-the-board federal spending cuts and head off future government shutdowns, acting after Speaker John Boehner unleashed a stinging attack on tea party-aligned conservative groups campaigning for the measure's defeat.

The legislation, backed by the White House, cleared on a vote of 332-94, with lopsided majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike voting in favor.

It now goes to the Senate, where conservative members have vowed a fight. The Senate is expected to consider the measure next week.

The events in the House gave a light coating of bipartisan cooperation to the end of a bruising year of divided government — memorable for a partial government shutdown, flirtation with an unprecedented Treasury default and gridlock on immigration, gun control and other items on President Barack Obama's second-term agenda.

Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, hailed the vote, saying it "shows Washington can and should stop governing by crisis and both sides can work together to get things done."

Minutes after the budget action, the House approved a broad military policy bill that aims to curb sexual assaults, cover combat pay for U.S. forces and fund new aircraft and ships. That vote, too, was lopsided, 350-69, sending the bill to the Senate, which plans to adjourn for the year next week.

The budget debate in the House was tame by comparison with Boehner's criticism of Republican-favoring outside groups that at times have been more of an obstacle to him than Democrats.

"I think they're misleading their followers," Boehner said of the groups, whom he pointedly also blamed for last fall's partial government shutdown. "I think they're pushing our members in places where they don't want to be. And frankly, I just think that they've lost all credibility" by opposing legislation before the details are known."

He mentioned no organizations by name, although it appeared he was referring to Heritage Action and Club for Growth, both of which have sought to push the House further to the right than the Republican leadership has been willing to go.

"They pushed us into this fight to defund 'Obamacare' and to shut down the government. . . . That wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind," he said.

The agreement, negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — and endorsed by the White House — would set overall spending levels for the current budget year and the one that begins on Oct. 1, 2014. That would probably eliminate the possibility of another shutdown.

Some Republicans said the bill was the best the party could get in divided government.

Democrats were conflicted, but for different reasons.

There was general support for easing across-the-board reductions in programs like education, Head Start and transportation. Yet Democrats were unhappy that the measure lacked an extension of unemployment benefits due to expire on Dec. 28.

The expiring program provides benefits to unemployed workers who have been without work for more than 26 weeks. The cost of a one-year extension was put at $25 billion.

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