WASHINGTON – House Republicans embraced a new leader Wednesday and swiftly consented to a major budget-and-debt deal to avert a federal financial crisis, highlights of a day of dramatic fresh starts at the Capitol after years of division and disarray.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate and a telegenic spokesman for conservative priorities, was nominated by his colleagues in a secret-ballot election to serve as speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency. The full House will confirm that choice Thursday.
Immediately after choosing Ryan to chart a new course for their fractured party, Republicans trooped onto the House floor to cast votes on a huge two-year budget deal struck in recent days between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders of both parties.
The agreement, approved 266-167, would raise the government’s borrowing limit through March of 2017, averting an unprecedented default just days away. It would also set the budget of the federal government for the next two years, lifting onerous spending caps and steering away from the brinkmanship and shutdown threats that have haunted Congress for years.
Most of the “no” votes were from Republicans, but 79 GOP lawmakers voted for approval.
“A solid piece of legislation,” declared outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who played a key role in engineering the accord after announcing his resignation last month following a quarter-century in Congress and nearly five years in the speaker’s chair. Boehner was beset by intractable divisions between the party’s pragmatists and purists, but those will now be Ryan’s to resolve.
Wednesday’s budget bill makes good on Boehner’s promise to “clean the barn” for Ryan on the way out, removing the most contentious issues that would have confronted him immediately upon becoming speaker. Conservatives loudly protested the price tag and a secretive, back-room process, and farm-state Republicans raised alarms about cuts to federal crop insurance programs.
But the House approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate anyway, relying on a majority of Democratic votes, a feature of a number of significant deals cut under Boehner’s leadership. Democrats supplied 187 of the “yes” votes, while 79 came from Republicans.
“The outgoing speaker of the House has partnered with Democrats and Senate leadership to craft a monstrosity of a budget deal,” one hardliner, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, complained, calling on candidates for speaker to reject the bill.
Ryan did not oblige. He criticized the process used to reach the bill, saying it “stinks,” but issued a statement announcing his support for the deal because it “will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us.”
Indeed Ryan could ask for no better gift from Boehner at a moment when GOP leaders are fretting about the deep Republican divisions on display in Congress and the presidential campaign, where outsider candidates are leading established politicians.
Dealing with the debt limit and winning a budget agreement would almost certainly have forced Ryan into the same types of compromises with Obama and the Democrats that conservatives routinely denounced in Boehner. Now he will have a freer hand, though he faces his own challenges, including the need to pass a package of spending bills by Dec. 11.
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