Tea party groups and fiscal conservatives wasted no time Wednesday in savaging a bipartisan budget agreement negotiated between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, drawing an unusually angry response from House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
All sides were rating the winners and losers in the deal struck a day earlier between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. The modest deficit-cutting deal had some sweeteners for defense contractors and oil drillers, while air travelers, federal workers and some corporate executives would take a hit.
But most of the passion focused on the politics of the deal, with Mr. Ryan, Mr. Boehner and the House GOP leadership defending their handiwork from attacks from conservative colleagues on Capitol Hill and from outside groups such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity. Critics said the agreement effectively raised taxes in the form of higher fees, failed to restrain entitlement programs and permitted new spending in the short term in exchange for vague promises of long-term cuts.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said in an interview that Republicans sacrificed their biggest point of leverage — the tough “sequester” spending cuts that were already in force — in the rush to get a short-term deal that did not address the long-term costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“I am against [the deal] from just a basic point that we embarked on a position at the beginning of the year that said, ‘We will keep the sequester in place unless we get to make changes on mandatory spending that will save those program and put the budget on path to balance within the next 10 years,’” Mr. Jordan said.
Added Chris Chocola, president of the fiscally hawkish Club for Growth, “Apparently, there are some Republicans who don’t have the stomach for even relatively small spending reductions that are devoid of budgetary smoke and mirrors. If Republicans work with Democrats to pass this deal, it should surprise no one when Republican voters seek alternatives who actually believe in less spending when they go to the ballot box.”
Despite conservative unhappiness and tepid reviews from many House Democrats, the proposal could be voted on in the House as early as Thursday and Mr. Ryan said Wednesday on CNN that he is confident he has the votes to pass the bill.
Mr. Boehner used unusually pointed language in hitting back at conservative opponents of the deal, charging that critics opposed the agreement even before knowing what was in it.
“They’re using our members and the American people to their own purposes,” an angry Mr. Boehner said. “This is ridiculous.”
But several Republican senators, including Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn, immediately came out against the deal and many other Republican senators are expected to oppose the accord.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated Wednesday that the bulk of the plan’s deficit reduction would come in the final three years of the deal, while the new spending would happen over the next two years.
The estimate followed news that the U.S. government ran a $135.2 billion budget deficit through the first two months of the year — well short of the $226.8 billion deficit the nation had built up by this time a year ago. The Treasury Department said that more revenue was coming into the federal government thanks to higher tax rates and an improving economy.
The Ryan-Murray agreement increases spending in 2014 to $1.012 trillion and in 2015 to $1.014 trillion and restores more than $60 billion in sequester spending cuts.
The new spending is offset in part by lowering the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees, requiring higher pension contributions from recently hired federal employees and raising fees on travelers collected by the Transportation Security Administration.
Some winners in the deal included the Pentagon and the defense industry, where much of the defense-related sequester cuts were restored, and the energy industry, which won expanded rights for joint drilling along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the Gulf of Mexico.