By ALAN FRAM
The House was poised Wednesday to approve a bipartisan pact charting a two-year budget truce and Republicans were set to nominate Rep. Paul Ryan as the new speaker, milestones GOP leaders hope will transform their party’s recent chaos into calm in time for next year’s presidential and congressional campaigns.
Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate were urging lawmakers to back the agreement, which would resolve fights over defense and domestic spending and federal borrowing until early 2017. Expectations were for House passage Wednesday and final Senate approval by next week, even as hard-right conservatives and farm-state lawmakers arrayed against the deal.
Hours before the vote, Ryan, R-Wis., said he will support the bill because it makes “meaningful reforms” that strengthen safety net programs like Social Security and provides sufficient resources for the military.
“What has been produced will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us,” Ryan said in a written statement.
At a Wednesday morning closed-door meeting, Ryan told House Republicans what he won’t do as speaker. “I don’t plan to be Caesar, calling all the shots around here,” as he flashed thumbs up and thumbs down signs, said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
That seemed to be a reference to demands hardline conservatives have made to transfer more power over legislation from House leaders to rank-and-file lawmakers. Those conservatives have said the secret negotiations by which leaders crafted the budget deal typified departing House Speaker John Boehner’s top-down approach to legislating, and Ryan said Tuesday that that process “stinks.”
President Barack Obama praised the budget agreement and urged both parties to “come together to pass this agreement without delay.”
Boehner, R-Ohio, was pivotal in crafting the budget deal, which amounts to a valedictory legislative prize for his supporters and a whack at his conservative House nemeses. The quarter-century House veteran serves his final day in Congress on Friday, driven into abrupt retirement by rebellious GOP hardliners who scorned his penchant for compromise with Obama and Democrats.
“I have a gift for you, too,” Boehner told Republicans Tuesday after they gave him a golf cart as a parting present. He called the agreement “the best possible deal at this moment for our troops, for taxpayers and for the American people.”
Without legislation, the government could lapse into an economy-jolting default next week. A partial federal shutdown would occur without action by Dec. 11.
The unyielding conservatives who comprise the House Freedom Caucus announced their opposition to the budget deal Wednesday, though the measure seemed likely to pass with support from scores of Republicans and most Democrats. The conservatives criticized the agreement as a backroom deal that surrendered too much to Obama.
“No wonder so many Americans distrust Congress,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the Freedom Caucus leader.
At least initially, it seemed that conservatives opposing the budget pact would not hold Ryan’s vote for it against him.
“Most people are understanding that this deal is a product of the old speaker,” said Salmon.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a presidential candidate, promised a filibuster, calling the package a capitulation that illustrates “why the grassroots Republicans are so angry with establishment Republicans.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed ready to use procedures to limit the delay to a few days — underscoring the conservatives’ helplessness when confronted with bipartisan cooperation.
The agreement would provide an extra $80 billion, divided evenly between the Pentagon and domestic agencies over the next two years, and extend the government’s authority to borrow to pay bills into March 2017, as Obama’s successor settles into the White House.
Approval would reduce the chance of partisan fights cascading into a federal shutdown or default, a relief to Republicans fearing such events would alienate voters.
A foremost beneficiary would be Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate. Boehner had said he wanted to “clean the barn” of politically messy issues so Ryan, 45, could make a fresh start.
The full House is scheduled to formally elect Ryan as speaker Thursday.
The agreement’s extra spending would be financed by a potpourri of savings including sales of millions of gallons from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, curbs on Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and doctors and tougher federal debt collection, including allowing federal agents to call people’s cell phones.
It would trim federal subsidies to companies that sell crop insurance to farmers, creating an uproar among agriculture-state lawmakers.
The package would also avert threatened cuts in Social Security disability benefits and a potential increase in Medicare premiums for about 15 million beneficiaries.
Eds: AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.