House and Senate Approve Compromise 2011 Budget

John Boehner

Scores of House Republicans deserted their leadership to vote against the bill, which cut $38 billion in spending, saying it did not go far enough. As a result, Speaker John A. Boehner was forced to rely on large numbers of Democrats to pass the measure, which subsequently sailed through the Senate, 81 to 19. It went to President Obama for his signature.

Over the last several days, House Republican leaders repeatedly defended the bill, the product of a bipartisan compromise last week less than two hours before the government would have shut down. They said that while it fell short of their goal of cutting $61 billion from spending this year, it nonetheless established the principle that the budget would have to be substantially reined in.

“Is it perfect?” Mr. Boehner said, in his final appeal to members on the House floor. “No. I’d be the first to admit it’s flawed. But welcome to divided government.”

The House vote was 260 to 167, with 59 Republicans breaking ranks to vote against the deal. The large number of defections highlighted the challenge facing Mr. Boehner as he tiptoes between conservatives who ran on a shake-it-up agenda and the limitations of what the House can do when Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

The number of House Republicans who voted against the measure would have been 60 had Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas not arrived too late to vote. Afterward, Mr. Gohmert approached the podium and said sheepishly that the bill “didn’t live up to our promises,” before walking away. Among the 87 Republican freshmen, many of whom ran on a platform of “cut it now,” 60 voted in favor of the bill and 27 against.

Yet for all its last-minute drama and attendant partisan theatrics, the bill — made necessary after Democrats failed to pass a 2011 budget in the last Congress — was just an opening act for more consequential battles to come before this Congress.

Thursday’s vote was the precursor to an expected vote on Friday in the House on a budget blueprint for the next fiscal year that will call for a sea change in the structures of the giant Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs, a measure almost certainly dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. That fight, in turn, could be linked to the politically and economically explosive question of whether to approve an increase in the federal debt ceiling, a step many conservatives say they will resist unless Mr. Obama and his party agree to deep spending cuts for 2012 and beyond.

A mutual desire to avoid a crippling government shutdown led Democrats and Republicans to scratch their way toward a deal this time, but the far more difficult task of reducing government spending in a legislature divided not by political parties but by ideological factions will be far more difficult, especially as the 2012 election edges closer.

Almost immediately after the vote, the House moved right into a rowdy debate over the 2012 budget plan written by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Budget Committee chairman. Mr. Ryan said his plan would reduce projected annual deficits by a cumulative $4.4 trillion over the next decade through further cuts in discretionary spending programs and by turning Medicare into a “defined benefit,” replacing the current system with one in which older Americans would choose among private insurance plans. Those plans would be paid for by the government, up to preset limits. Mr. Ryan also wants to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, and to reduce the tax rates for corporations and individuals.

“This is a serious budget,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. “For all this talk about preserving Medicare, preserving Medicare as it currently is means that you are consigning it to history.”

The White House is seeking to keep the debate over the 2012 budget separate from the need to raise the debt ceiling in coming months. But many Republicans see the necessity of raising the debt limit as the best leverage they have to extract concessions from the administration and Senate Democrats, setting up months of brinkmanship this spring and summer.

“The president has asked us to raise the debt ceiling,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader. “Republicans, and I hope many Democrats as well, will say, ‘Mr. President, as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, you’ll need to agree to do something significant.’ And by significant, I mean something the markets view as significant, the American people view as significant, and foreign countries view as significant.”

House Republicans tried Thursday to suggest that the framework for the future negotiations, however hard fought, will come from their ranks. The party has “stopped spending our future and started saving our future,” Representative Ander Crenshaw, Republican of Florida, said on the House floor.

While opposing many aspects of the compromise budget bill for the remainder of this fiscal year, Democrats agreed to help lift it to passage. The minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, voted against the bill, while the Democratic whip, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, voted in favor. Quoting the 19th-century lawmaker Henry Clay, Mr. Hoyer said on the House floor, “If you cannot compromise, you cannot govern.” Mr. Hoyer added: “The priorities that we have agreed to in this resolution are not my priorities. But we have reached an agreement.”

Realizing that the majority was going to need Democratic votes to pass the measure and avoid a shutdown, aides said that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, reached out to Mr. Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat, for help on Thursday. Democrats initially did not have enough firm supporters of the measure, one official said, prompting Mr. Hoyer and his allies to reach out to lawmakers and round up what ultimately amounted to 81 Democrat votes, enough to provide a comfortable margin.

Those Republicans who voted against the measure — perhaps further egged on by Mr. Obama’s speech on Wednesday in which he laid out a long-term budget framework that differed in almost every substantive way from Mr. Ryan’s — said they simply wanted more cuts.

“I respect my leadership and applaud them for giving it their best,” Representative Joe Walsh, Republican of Illinois, said on his Facebook page. “But I did not come here to blink. I was sent here to run to the mountaintop and yell for all the world to hear.”

Congress also voted on two other measures, one to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood and another to roll back the 2010 health care overhaul. The first measure passed 241 to 185, with Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, voting present, while the measure seeking to repeal the health care act passed 240 to 185. Both measures, brought to the floor as part of the deal last Friday between Republicans and Democrats, failed in the Senate.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

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