Hard-Fought Budget Deal On Its Way To The Senate

The House passes the House-Senate budget compromise after Speaker John Boehner criticizes conservative groups — and implicitly their allies in Congress — for their opposition. Next stop: the Senate.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The House of Representatives passed a budget deal yesterday by a convincing margin. It now goes to the Senate. The deal is hardly a grand bargain. It is, in fact, rather small. It contains some deficit reduction. It also eases across-the-board cuts known as the sequester. But it does seem to be something of a turn away from the budget wars in Congress. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to explain it all. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the vote. It passed overwhelmingly. Now, how did that happen?

KEITH: Well, it seems that the bill's title wasn't just wishful thinking. It was called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. It passed with bipartisan support, I think in part, at least, because the people who negotiated it - Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan - have a lot of respect within their caucuses. And looking at the no votes, there are about 30 Democrats who dropped off and about 60 Republicans; and it was for the reasons that you would expect. Democrats were upset about it not including unemployment insurance extensions, and Republicans that dropped off were upset about the fees being increased and about not enough spending being cut soon enough.

MONTAGNE: And House Speaker John Boehner wanted his Republicans to vote for this deal. He had less than charitable words for the outside groups - like the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Freedom-works - who were urging a no vote. And they were very powerful.

KEITH: Yeah. And it was remarkable. For months, reporters have been sort of trying to get him to say what he really thinks of these groups, and he's always held back. But then at two press conferences this week, he totally unloaded on them. He questioned their credibility, and pointed to the government shutdown earlier this year, which these groups encouraged.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and to shut down the government. Now, most of you know, my members know, that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you'll recall the day before the government reopened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said well, we never really thought it would work. Are you kidding me?

MONTAGNE: House Speaker John Boehner. Now, Tamara, the budget deal is not a done deal. It does have to go to the Senate. Then there are more deadlines after that - the expiration of spending authority in January, and the debt ceiling in February. A lot of stuff - even hard to keep up on. Does that mean more crises and countdown clocks?

KEITH: Probably not, actually. Yesterday I spoke with Hal Rogers, who's the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and he was confident - absolutely confident - that they'd be able to get the spending bills done in time to avoid a possible government shutdown in the middle of January. And as for that debt ceiling, it expires in February, but the Treasury Department can then do some extraordinary measures to avoid default. And by the time those run out, it'll be the height of an election year, which would greatly reduce the appetite for a showdown.

MONTAGNE: Tamara, thanks very much. That's NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith.

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