WASHINGTON - The House has given sweeping bipartisan approval to a budget bill backed by both President Barack Obama, his Democratic allies and a big majority of the chamber's Republicans.
The 332-94 vote sends the measure to the Senate, where Republicans are more skeptical. But the Democratic-led chamber appears sure to adopt the measure next week and send it to Obama for his signature.
The package was drafted by a congressional odd couple of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray. The Wisconsin Republican and Washington Democrat found enough compromise to ease the harshest effects of another round of automatic spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and domestic agencies next month.
Supporters of the measure easily beat back attacks on it from conservative activists.
WASHINGTON - Speaker John Boehner sharply criticized outside conservative groups opposed to year-end budget legislation on Thursday and said the measure "takes great steps in the right direction."
Hours before a scheduled vote on the bill, Boehner repeatedly denounced tea party-aligned organizations for their opposition, saying they were seeking to further their own objectives, not those of the Republican Party or the country.
"Frankly, I think they're misleading their followers. I think they're pushing our members into places where they don't want to be. And frankly, I just think that they've lost all credibility," Boehner said at a news conference.
"You know, one of them, they pushed us into the fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government," he said in an apparent reference to Heritage Action.
Heritage Action, Club for Growth and other groups have urged lawmakers to oppose the measure, some issuing their appeals before the legislation had been made public.
The legislation is designed to eliminate the threat of future government shutdowns like the one that took place in October and erase $65 billion in across-the-board spending cuts this year and next in areas ranging from defense to education. It substitutes about $85 billion in savings from elsewhere in the budget over a 10-year period. The $65 billion would restore about one-third of the automatic cuts slated to hit agency operating budgets over 2014-2015; the cuts would fully resume in 2016 and run through 2021.
The effect is to push deficits higher in the current budget year and the next two before it begins to reduce red ink.
With the White House supporting the measure, GOP aides betrayed no nervousness about its chances for passage in the Republican-controlled House.
A Senate vote would likely wait until next week, and it was not yet clear whether tea party-aligned conservatives would require supporters to amass a 60-vote majority in order to pass it.
Boehner's remarks marked the second day in a row he has taken a swipe at outside groups, reflecting a deep frustration on the part of many party leaders.
Asked about somewhat weaker criticism he levelled on Wednesday, he said, "I thought it was my obligation to stand up for conservatives in Congress."
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California also threw her support behind the bill.
The deal, which Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., negotiated with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., would preserve the bulk of tough agency spending cuts the GOP won in a 2011 showdown with Obama.
The measure, which was set for a vote Thursday, seemed sure to pass despite unhappiness on the part of House Democrats cut out of the talks who were also upset that it didn't contain a provision to renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Nobody was claiming that the pact between the high-profile Ryan, his party's vice presidential nominee last year, and the shrewdly tough Murray, a 21-year veteran of the Senate, was perfect. Some lawmakers said they were troubled by short-term increases in the deficit, $23.2 billion in 2014 and $18.2 billion the year after that.
But the deal would put a dysfunctional Washington on track to prevent unappealing cuts to military readiness and weapons, as well as continued cuts to programs cherished by Democrats and Republicans alike, including health research, school aid, FBI salaries and border security. The cuts would be replaced with money from, among other things, higher airline security fees, curbs on the pension benefits of new federal workers or working-age military retirees, and premium increases on companies whose pension plans are insured by the federal government.
Ryan said Thursday the accommodation was modest but that it moves a fiscally challenged and divided government "in the right direction."
In appearances on morning news shows, he said the political deal was necessary to help get the economy on a firmer footing at a time when the Federal Reserve Board apparently is set to wind down its bond-buying stimulus program.
Ryan called it a start toward fiscal responsibility while acknowledging that "I don't see any difference in the likelihood of a grand bargain" on taxes and spending.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said that "much of the spending increase in this deal has been justified by increased fees and new revenue. In other words, it's a fee increase to fuel a spending increase, rather than reducing deficits."
The Ryan-Murray pact uses a combination of mostly low-profile cuts and the new fee revenues, much of which won't occur until after the turn of the next decade, to ease cuts mandated by the inability of Congress and the White House to follow up a 2011 budget pact with additional deficit cuts.
Those cuts were intended to be so fearsome that they would force the capital's warring factions to make budget peace. Instead, after the first-year impact of so-called sequestration wasn't as bad as advertised, many Republicans have come to embrace them. The Ryan-Murray deal recognizes that the second year of the automatic cuts would be worse than the first, especially for the Pentagon, and seeks to ease their pain.
Two of Ryan's potential rivals if he seeks the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 - Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio - are against the measure.