- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2013

While most House Republicans backed the new budget deal, Senate Republicans balked — underscoring the tricky election-year politics that face the GOP as it tries to show it can govern in Washington, while facing angry base voters back home.

The split ran to the highest levels of the party: The top three Senate Republicans on Wednesday all voted against the deal — even though it was written with the backing of the three top House Republican leaders.

Indeed, House Speaker John A. Boehner pleaded with colleagues to pass the deal last week and blasted critics, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted against it, saying it took a step backwards on spending.

“Republican senators, especially those with primary challenges, are feeling the heat back home,” said Keith Appell, GOP consultant. “They know they’re already on thin ice for cutting back-room deals with the Democrats that only serve to break promises they made back home.”

The Senate voted 67-33 to break a filibuster on the budget bill, with just 12 Republicans teaming up with the Democratic caucus. On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a 64-36 vote, with nine Republicans supporting the bill.

Last week, the House easily passed the budget agreement on a 332-94 vote, with 169 Republicans voting for it and just 62 voting against it.

John Feehery, a Republican consultant, downplayed the idea that the party’s incumbents are running scared from their primary opponents, saying the divided votes between the House and Senate are the result of a divided government, not internal conflict.

“This is not going to be a long-term problem for Republicans,” Mr. Feehery said. “My sense is the SenateGOP is in the minority and they don’t have to govern; and in the House, they are in the majority and do have to govern.”

Mr. Feehery said that Republicans would be better off employing a unified message heading into the 2014 election year, where Republicans are looking to protect their House majority and pick up the six seats they need to take control of the Senate.

Mr. Boehner defended his support for the plan, lashing out at conservative groups that criticized it for increasing spending in exchange for vague spending cuts in the future.

“I came here to fight for a smaller, less costly, more accountable federal government, and this budget agreement takes giant steps in the right direction,” Mr. Boehner told reporters last week. “It’s not everything I wanted, but when groups come out and criticize an agreement that they’ve never seen you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are.”

Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, remained silent on the deal until Tuesday, when he announced his opposition, saying it undercut the 2011 Budget Control Act he hammered out with Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

“It’s the only spending reduction bill we’ve passed in the last 30 years that’s actually reduced spending,” Mr. McConnell told reporters. “It reduced spending for two years in a row for the first time since right after the Korean War. You know, I and most of my members came to Washington to reduce government spending. So I hated to walk away from something that.”

But Mr. McConnell still came under fire from the Madison Project, a conservative group that is backing his primary opponent, Matt Bevin.

The group’s leaders said that Mr. McConnell could have taken a stronger public stand against the proposal early on, and accused him of calculating the “most politically advantageous” position to take on the bill.

“Thanks to McConnell’s deafening silence over the past week, Democrats were able to peel off twelve Republican votes to pass this raw deal,” said Daniel Horowitz, the Madison Project’s policy director.

Matt Hoskins, of the Senate Conservative Fund, which also wants to topple Mr. McConnell in the primary, shared a similar sentiment, saying “the Senate leadership is for it too but they have primary challengers and were afraid to vote for it.”

“But nobody should be fooled,” Mr. Hoskins said. “Senate leadership wanted it to pass and did absolutely nothing to get their colleagues to defeat it.”

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