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Boehner's Parting Gift: Two-Year Budget Deal Passes The House

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 28/10/2015 Laura Barron-Lopez
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WASHINGTON -- After weeks of negotiations between congressional leaders and the administration, the House passed a major budget deal Wednesday, effectively avoiding such showdowns into the next presidency.

In his parting gift to the House, outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hammered out the deal with his fellow leaders in Congress and the White House, enraging the very members of his conference who edged him out.

The two-year deal, unveiled at midnight Monday , lifts sequestration caps evenly across defense and nondefense accounts by a total of $80 billion. That money will be divided with $50 billion budgeted for the first year and $30 billion for the second. In addition, the bill also increases defense spending through the overseas contingency fund -- a side piggybank that helps the White House pay for war operations -- adding $32 billion to it over the two years

In a 266-167 vote, the House passed the deal, which will keep Congress from a default on Nov. 3, and increase the debt ceiling into March 2017. All Democrats and 79 Republicans voted in favor of it. 

Though speakers typically never vote on bills, Boehner voted in favor of the deal. Boehner's successor-in-waiting, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), also voted for the bill.

Boehner defended the deal after it was released to members, saying he made good on his promise to “clean the barn.”

“ This'll make it easier for the entire Congress for the balance of this year, and it'll make next year a whole lot smoother for the Congress as well,” Boehner said.

By clearing the agenda of nearly all must-pass legislation, Boehner left Ryan with a relatively smooth first year. Ryan is expected to easily rack up the 218 votes needed on the House floor to become speaker on Thursday.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, hailed the deal as an opportunity for Congress to function again.

"We lurched from crisis to crisis, it seemed," he said. "Not only do we have the number for fiscal year '16, but we have it for fiscal '17, and that is very important. It gives us a year to plan our work."

"The two years that we have now to get back on regular order and stop lurching from crisis to crisis, to stop that business, this bill will give us that great chance," Rogers said. "It's not perfect, it's not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the best we can do with what we have, and the alternative would be disaster."

Still, Boehner’s decision didn’t sit well with a number of members in both parties.

“Nobody is happy with the budget deal, even people who are voting for it -- and I’m not -- aren’t happy with the budget deal,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “It was a disservice by John on the way out the door to the larger conference. Helpful to Paul moving forward; very damaging of the Republican brand.”

Mulvaney even pointed to the anti-Washington fervor on the campaign trail, which likely contributed to Boehner’s decision to resign, for further evidence. “ I think you’ll see the anti-establishment movement now in the GOP presidential primary react very powerfully to what John has forced down our throats as a party on the way out the door,” Mulvaney said, referring to the third Republican presidential debate set to air Wednesday night.

"No one here in this room can say that this piece of legislation that we're looking at now is going to advance America, bring us progress that we actually really need," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a member of the progressive faction among Democrats.  “This is not a progress budget. This is a survival budget. And we need to survive, so I'm going to vote for this legislation, but we must come to the moment in time when we are looking to advance our country."

But other progressives were more enthusiastic, noting the the GOP would not be able to use the debt limit or the threat of a government shutdown as leverage for two years.

"What Speaker Boehner did, and I am so indebted to him as all of us should be, is that he took out of the hands of those of us in Congress two weapons which when used are very destructive, and that is the threat of shutting government down, and the threat of defaulting on America's full faith and credit," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) "We can't do that."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he would oppose the measure because it uses too many gimmicks and "robs from the future to pay for this year."

"I will not sell our future for this year's budget," he said.

The main pay-fors in the bill, which was modeled after the agreement hashed out between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in 2013, are two big entitlement programs. It would extend the sequester's cuts to mandatory spending through 2025, which mainly involves a 2 percent cut in reimbursements to Medicare doctors. That reduction would have expired in 2021 under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which established sequestration. It was extended to 2023 under Murray-Ryan deal.

The bill would also would prevent a 20 percent cut in benefits next year to the 11 million Americans enrolled in the Social Security Disability Insurance program.

The Senate is expected to bring the bill to the floor as early as Thursday, and will need push final passage before Tuesday.

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