Republican Budget Plan Narrowly Passes House

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By Kristina Peterson

Tight Vote on Blueprint Shows Which GOP Lawmakers Feel That Backing It Is Political

Rounding up votes for a Republican budget blueprint the House approved Thursday, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told GOP lawmakers that he needed the support of all Republicans—or almost all of them.

“Not everyone can be running for Senate in Georgia,” he joked in a closed-door meeting this week, according to lawmakers and aides.

In the end, Mr. McCarthy lost the votes of all three Georgia Republicans competing in a GOP primary for the Senate, as well as those of nine other Republican congressmen. That left the House GOP with a narrow, 219-205 vote in favor of the budget—and an illustration of which lawmakers felt that backing their party’s budget plan would be a political risk in the runup to the November elections.

Drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the 10-year budget blueprint serves as Republicans’ chief statement of policy priorities, a wish list of GOP proposals to reduce federal spending and overhaul safety-net programs.

No Democrats voted for the budget, saying its $5.1 trillion in cuts over 10 years would inflict disproportionate pain on the middle class.

Most of the dozen Republican lawmakers who defected argued the plan wouldn’t do enough to curb federal spending. They included the three Georgians competing for Republican votes in the crowded, seven-candidate Senate primary. “This is what I call a wimpy budget,” said one of them, Rep. Paul Broun.

The overall spending level for fiscal 2015—the first year of the budget’s plan—was set in a December deal between Mr. Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.). It increased near-term spending in exchange for future cuts.

“That is morally reprehensible in my opinion,” Mr. Broun said in an interview this week.

Joining him in opposing the budget were two rivals in the Georgia Senate contest, Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, as well as Rep. Ralph Hall, a Texas Republican facing a primary runoff next month.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) said GOP lawmakers who sought spending cuts even beyond those in Mr. Ryan’s budget would face voter resistance. “It is striking that somebody could simultaneously vote against the Ryan budget because it was not sufficiently conservative, that it didn’t go far enough in its cuts, and run for statewide office in any one of our 50 states,” said Mr. Bennet, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm.

Under Mr. Ryan’s plan, the average annual growth in federal spending would slow to 3.5% from its current path of 5.2%. To eliminate the annual federal budget deficit, the budget would reduce spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years and overhaul social safety-net programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. The Ryan plan also would repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it incorporates some $700 billion in Medicare savings and $1 trillion in revenues generated under the 2010 health law.

“We are offering a balanced budget that pays down the debt,” Mr. Ryan said on the House floor Thursday. Democratic plans to increase spending on education, infrastructure and other programs would expand government, he said. “Time and again, they are proposing to put government in the driver’s seat.”

Some Republicans, more worried about tough general-election races in November than about GOP primaries, opposed the Ryan budget. Endorsing its cuts to education and its changes to Medicare could have opened them to attacks from Democrats.

“With double-digit unemployment in my district, further reductions in food stamps, the children’s health insurance program, student loans and other essential domestic programs vital to the families I represent is not something I can support at this time,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) said in a statement. Mr. LoBiondo is trying to stave off a challenge from Democrat Bill Hughes Jr.

Rep. David McKinley (R., W.Va.), running against Democratic state auditor Glen Gainer, also cited education cuts and a paucity of infrastructure spending for his vote against the budget.

“While the House Republican budget includes positive aspects, it also includes some proposals that differ from the priorities of West Virginia’s First District,” Mr. McKinley said.

By contrast, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, working to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, said the budget demonstrated that House Republicans “are the only adults in the room when it comes to solving our country’s fiscal problems.”

House Republicans have supported several previous versions of Mr. Ryan’s budget, which contained many of the same ideas, including in 2010—just before big GOP election gains gave the party control of the House.

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