The margin was simply stunning — 332 to 94 — for House passage of a two-year budget that restores some monies for defense, includes minor pension reform, eschews tax increases and maintains the basic structure of the sequester. The far-right groups (Heritage Action, Club for Growth) and their minions squawked, but they were ignored and even insulted by the speaker, who questioned how the folks that brought us the shutdown could question a bipartisan budget deal that takes away the threat of tax hikes and a shutdown for the remainder of the Obama presidency. The era of bullying by the hardliners — if not over — is at least waning.
The victory is a substantial one for the House leadership, for mainstream Republican groups like the Chamber of Commerce (which has roused itself to take on the far right) and most especially House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who struck the deal and persuaded the 168 other Republicans to join him in passing the bill (Dems provided nearly as many votes).
In essence, Ryan saved the GOP from itself, allowing it to forgo endless squabbles and shutdown threats in order to concentrate on the best issues for them, primarily Obamacare. In staring down the far-right groups, the speaker and others in House leadership gain some running room to use on immigration and other issues. With a win this big — one that the country desperately wanted to end the budget histrionics — why quiver at the prospect of Heritage Action e-mails or threats by Club for Growth to primary incumbents? (Let them try to primary 169 Republicans.)
In his floor speech, Majority Leader Eric Cantor reminded his colleagues: “I think we can all agree that arbitrary, indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts are not the smartest way to cut spending. Last year, House Republicans passed two bills that would have replaced the sequester’s indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts. This bill is a reflection of our priority to replace the sequester with permanent savings that will responsibly reduce our deficit.” That was an unmistakable jab at the GOP hardliners who flip-flopped on defense spending and the Senate Republicans who get a free “no” vote despite their past objections to across-the-board cuts.
As for 2016, the far right predicted the end of Ryan’s presidential ambitions. ABC News quoted him as saying, “If I’m not good at this job, why should I ask somebody for another job?” That, make no mistake, is a slap at the grandstanders in the Senate who aspire to the presidency yet have no accomplishments to their name. Those senators can all afford to vote no, protect their right flank and let the real leaders, Ryan especially, govern. It is actually a pretty powerful argument in Ryan’s favor — the man who can get a huge majority to preserve a very conservative agenda (e.g. no taxes, spending cuts). The GOP senators are acting like senators while Ryan is acting like the party’s leader.
Meanwhile, the House also passed the defense authorization bill, without the provision that threatened to take line commanders out of sexual assault investigations and disciplinary proceedings. (Alternative reforms supported by the military were included, as the speaker pointed out in a statement.) Contrary to the hype of a few isolationists, the pro-defense contingent in the House showed its determination both on the budget and the defense authorization bill; perhaps Obama’s reckless foreign policy has frightened enough lawmakers into taking their national security role more seriously.
The winners: House leadership, Ryan, business groups, national security, conservative hawks, Obamacare opponents, the economy, Republicans challenging red state Dems (the budget deal is an argument for GOP governance), Congress and voters (wondering if government was permanently broken).
The losers: MSM (no more budget fights!), Jim DeMint, Club for Growth, Senate Republicans aspiring to the presidency, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (if Ryan runs, Walker won’t), the right-wing media (again shown to have little influence in Congress), immigration reform opponents, the left (no Obamacare distractions, no unemployment benefit extension and no tax hikes) and the president (it’s now Obamacare 24/7).