WASHINGTON — A majority of House Republicans shrugged off vocal opposition by outside conservative groups and voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a bipartisan budget agreement.
The legislation sailed through 332-94 and now moves to the Senate, which is expected to consider the measure next week, ahead of a Jan. 15 deadline.
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said he wouldn't claim that the deal would save a lot of money, but it would give Congress the opportunity to eliminate wasteful spending and reorder priorities through the regular appropriations process.
“It's obviously not a perfect bill,” Latham said. “I would have loved to see a big agreement that would have actually changed the dynamics long-term — permanently — but the idea of actually having a bipartisan agreement in divided government is very important.”
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., voted for it with some reservations — and expressed surprise at the high level of support from his GOP colleagues.
Terry attributed that to lessons learned the hard way during October's partial government shutdown. Both parties — but especially Republicans — took a beating in public opinion polls over their handling of the situation.
“That was particularly painful for everybody, some more than others,” Terry said. “Absolutely it made an impact on the 'yes' votes here today.”
For his part, the Omaha congressman said he struggled with supporting the budget deal because it would roll back the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
While everyone agreed that process was a poor way to make spending decisions, Republicans had prized it as both a major achievement in their quest to trim government and a key piece of leverage in the future.
Terry said he was ultimately swayed by the package's overall deficit reduction of $85 billion.
“It's hard to turn your nose up at $85 billion in savings,” Terry said. “That was meaningful to me, that was the tipping point.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., also supported the deal.
Overall, House Republicans voted 169-62 for the bill, which would set spending levels for the government through the end of fiscal 2015, while Democrats backed it 163-32. The strong GOP support came even after some conservative groups had been highly critical of the deal — saying it didn't go far enough and doubting whether the deficit reduction would materialize.
The criticism prompted a sharp response Thursday from the House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said the groups had “lost all credibility.”
Terry said he disagreed with Boehner's comments and defended the outside conservative groups. But he also said he parted company with them on their view of the budget deal.
“Sometimes we disagree,” Terry said. “I have disagreements with my wife.”
Democrats were also displeased that the package didn't tackle emergency unemployment benefits, which expire Dec. 28.
The bipartisan agreement would ease the automatic spending cuts, or sequester, by spending an additional $63 billion more over the next two fiscal years. Most of that — $45 billion — would be spent this fiscal year and the rest next year. An additional $140 billion in cuts would be left in place.
On the other side of the budget ledger, it projects savings totaling $85 billion over the coming decade, enough to show a deficit reduction of about $23 billion over the 10-year period.
University of Nebraska at Omaha political scientist Randy Adkins said Terry could pay a price in the GOP primary next year for supporting the deal. Adkins said conservatives who may disagree with Terry's vote will play a major role in determining the party's nominee.
“Terry probably represents what we call the 'median voter' much better than his primary opponents will,” Adkins said. “But the median voter's not voting in a primary.”
The deal sets Congress on a path to avoid further government shutdowns next year, which should be welcome news to Terry, who was particularly stung during the October partial shutdown after he made inartful comments about keeping his paycheck. He later apologized for the comments and reversed course.
Reps. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Steve King, R-Iowa, voted against the budget deal Thursday.
Smith said it wouldn't achieve enough “real deficit reduction” to justify breaking the previously set spending limits.
“The debate over spending is not over,” Smith said. “We must continue to pursue reforms to entitlement programs to ensure long-term solvency and to simplify the tax code.”
This article contains material from The Associated Press.