December 11, 2013, 12:15 pm
By Erik Wasson and Russell Berman
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) won positive reviews from skeptical House Republicans on Wednesday morning for the budget deal he negotiated with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as senior lawmakers predicted a strong vote as early as Thursday.
While some conservatives criticized the deal, lawmakers said there was little sign of the kind of revolt that has derailed Republican fiscal plans in the past. The House is likely to vote on the plan Thursday, and because party leaders expect significant support from Democrats, they are not sweating defections from the right flank.
“We feel very good about where we are with our members,” Ryan told reporters after pitching his plan to lawmakers in a private party meeting.
The chief deputy whip, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), told reporters he was “confident” the agreement would win support from a majority of House Republicans, echoing predictions from other senior GOP lawmakers.
“I would characterize it as very little pushback,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is himself undecided.
“It achieves most of the things we would like to see when we have divided government,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who is leaning toward voting yes.
Ryan and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sought to maintain GOP support against an onslaught of criticism from outside conservative groups like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.
Boehner bashed those organizations both inside and outside the meeting.
“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous!” Boehner told reporters afterward.
The Speaker delivered a similar message to Republicans inside the party meeting, when, according to Womack, he urged lawmakers not to be pressured by outside activists.
“The Speaker was very clear: There is only one person who controls the voting cards of the member of Congress and that is the member of Congress,” Womack said.
A second person in the room confirmed Womack’s account and said Boehner, departing from his prepared remarks, called out those groups for opposing the deal before it was even announced. The Speaker said the groups were not interesting in enacting conservative principles but in raising money, the person said.
After Ryan and party leaders outlined the agreement, supporters and critics took to the microphones in the basement meeting to debate the measure.
“It was running about 50/50,” said Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) who supports the bill.
He said that many supporters were sitting on the sidelines and the bill would likely pass.
The deal would eliminate $63 billion in automatic spending cuts and set a $1.012 trillion budget ceiling for next year.
To make up for the new spending, the deal would raise Transportation Security Administration fees and increase the contributions federal workers must make to their pensions, among other revenue generators.
The bill includes no new taxes, and does not make any changes to entitlement programs.
Ryan sold it as a compromise that lowered the deficit by $23 billion, even if it was a far cry from the conservative blueprint he envisioned in his original Republican budget proposal.
“We’ve got to find a way to divided government work,” he told reporters.
It was a message that resonated with many in the party, although certainly not all.
“It’s the best compromise you can get in divided government,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
A number of conservatives cited Ryan’s credibility with the right as a reason why they would consider a deal they likely oppose otherwise.
“The only reason that I am undecided is my complete regard for Paul Ryan,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said.
Yet despite Ryan’s imprimatur, the deal faced opposition from a sizable chunk of the most hardcore conservatives, who criticized the agreement at an event shortly after the GOP meeting.
“I think it is terrible plan,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said. “It makes promises to the American people that are false. Today the Democrats realized they were right all along, that we would never hold the line on the sequester.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said the agreement violated the agreement struck in January between Boehner and the conservatives, which followed a fiscal cliff deal that deeply divided the party.
“I would argue that this agreement, while it has some positives, is a marked departure from what we all agreed,” he said. “It is not going to put us on the path to balance.”
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said he could not swallow any deal that promises future cuts for near-term spending increases.
But a few members were more positive at the monthly Conversations with Conservatives event.
Rep. Vicki Hartlzer (R-Mo.) said she was leaning yes.
“It replaces sequester cuts to our national defense without raising taxes,” she said.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who is spearheading opposition to the bill conceded that it will likely get a majority of House Republicans behind it.
“I think it probably will,” he said. “This was not a bill designed to get our support…it was designed to get the support of defense hawks and appropriators and Democrats.”