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House Approves Budget, Providing ‘Clean’ Exit That John Boehner Sought

October 29, 2015
In The News


WASHINGTON — Two days before the end of his quarter-century in Congress, Speaker John A. Boehner’s barn is looking pretty clean.

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly adopted a crucial bipartisan budget accord that in one relatively tight 144-page bill stands to end five years of bitter clashes between Republicans and the Obama administration over fiscal policy, allowing Mr. Boehner to fulfill his metaphorical pledge.

The measure, which was approved by a vote of 266 to 167, with 79 Republicans joining 187 Democrats in favor, averts a potentially devastating default by lifting the federal borrowing limit through March 2017, and it sharply reduces the risk of a government shutdown by setting clear spending targets for the next two years.

The adoption of the budget bill, which now goes to the Senate where approval is also expected, was just a part of Mr. Boehner’s departing effort to sweep clean a path forward for his successor, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who will be formally installed as speaker on Thursday.

The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, spoke with reporters on Wednesday after the House voted approval of the budget bill. The Senate is also expected to approve the legislation.

In another display of collaboration — stunning for a Congress that has been marked by partisan rancor and even more vicious internal disputes among Republicans — majorities in each party united on Tuesday in favor of reopening the federal Export-Import Bank.

Supporters of that measure forced a vote, which passed 392 to 37, using a rare procedural weapon, called a discharge petition. That same day, the House also approved a three-week extension of federal transportation programs that will at least give Mr. Ryan some breathing space.

The Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who has been a partner and adversary of Mr. Boehner’s — during his five years as speaker and four years before that when he was leading the minority — gave him credit for keeping his pledge.

“John Boehner said he was going to ‘clean out the barn,’ ” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview on Wednesday. “He’s checking off things and moving in a timely fashion until the last full day.”

Over 144 pages, the new budget deal was reached as Speaker John A. Boehner prepares to leave office.

Some Democrats, however, complained that Mr. Boehner was perhaps being given too much praise. Even with his backing, they noted, a large majority of Republicans — 167 out of 247 — voted against the budget accord, while all 187 Democrats who voted were in favor, a potentially worrisome sign that the rancor and dysfunction would quickly return to the forefront.

The budget deal, reached in secret negotiations with Congressional Democrats and the White House, will increase federal spending by $80 billion over the next two years, and provide an additional $32 billion in funds for overseas operations by the Pentagon and State Department.

It also will prevent a default on the federal debt that the Treasury Department had said would occur next week without congressional action, and called for cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers as well as changes to a Social Security disability program that supporters of the measure said would save the government billions, while preserving the program for decades to come.

In floor speeches, some lawmakers cheered the unusual level of cooperation.

In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, a law that set firm caps on federal spending for the next decade. But since then, Congress has made adjustments to each year’s budget to raise them.
“For the cynics who believe that nothing can happen in Washington and that we are permanently doomed to disarray, this has been a very bad week,” said Representative Brendan F. Boyle, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania.

“It’s about time this body stop allowing the 10 or 20 percent we disagree with to block the 70, 80, 90 percent we agree with,” he added.

Of course, hardly everyone was pleased. Many Republicans, including members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who had hounded Mr. Boehner from the speakership, accused him and other party leaders of betraying them with a late-hour deal that was negotiated in secret.

Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, who has called for changes in the way the House operates to give more power to individual lawmakers, was one of several critics who voted against the deal and called it a “zombie budget.”

“Just in time for Halloween this legislation is more trick than treat,” Mr. Roskam said in a statement, “with phantom savings and a truly terrifying $85 billion in new spending in the first three years. It was put together behind closed doors and once against puts today’s problems off until tomorrow.”

Mr. Ryan, who helped negotiate the last crucial budget agreement in 2013, had criticized the secret process in which the accord was negotiated even though he was part of virtually identical talks the last time around.

Nonetheless on Wednesday morning he gave the deal an important endorsement, saying it would provide “meaningful reforms” to Social Security and would return Congress to using a more orderly appropriations process.

“As with any budget agreement, this one has some good, some bad, and some ugly,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement, adding, “What I’ve heard from members over the last two weeks is a desire to wipe the slate clean, put in place a process that builds trust, and start focusing on big ideas. What has been produced will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us, and that’s why I intend to support it.”