Budget deal wins passage on Capitol Hill

But opposition is bipartisan; a showdown looms on debt

By Jennifer Steinhauer
New York Times / April 15, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Congress voted yesterday to keep the government financed through September, putting an end to a raucous first skirmish in this year’s showdown between Democrats and Republicans over federal spending while presaging bigger ones to come.

Scores of House Republicans deserted their leadership to vote against the bill, which cut $38 billion in spending, saying it did not go far enough. As a result, Speaker John A. Boehner was forced to rely on large numbers of Democrats to pass the measure, which subsequently sailed through the Senate, 81 to 19.

It then went to President Obama for his signature.

Over several days, House Republican leaders repeatedly defended the bill, the product of a bipartisan compromise last week before the government would have shut down. They said it fell short of their goal of cutting $61 billion this year but established the principle the budget would have to be reined in.

“Is it perfect?’’ Boehner said, in his final appeal to the House. “No. I’d be the first to admit it’s flawed. But welcome to divided government.’’

The House vote was 260 to 167, with 59 Republicans breaking ranks to vote no against the deal. Among the 87 Republican freshmen, many of whom ran on a platform of “cut it now,’’ 60 voted in favor of the bill.

Yet the bill — made necessary after Democrats failed to pass a 2011 budget in the previous Congress — was just an opening act for more consequential battles.

The vote was the precursor to an expected vote today Friday in the House on a blueprint for the next fiscal year that will call for a sea change in Medicare and Medicaid, a measure almost certainly dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. That fight, in turn, could be linked to the explosive question of whether to approve an increase in the federal debt ceiling, a step many conservatives say they will resist unless Obama and his party agree to deep spending cuts for 2012 and beyond.

Almost immediately after the vote, the House moved into a rowdy debate over the 2012 budget plan written by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman. Ryan says his plan would reduce projected annual deficits by a cumulative $4.4 trillion over the next decade through further cuts in discretionary spending and by turning Medicare into a “defined benefit,’’ replacing the current system with one in which older Americans would choose from among private insurance plans. Those plans would be paid for by the government, up to preset limits.

Ryan also wants to turn Medicaid into a block grant program and to reduce the tax rates for corporations and individuals.

While opposing many aspects of the compromise budget bill for the remainder of this fiscal year, Democrats agreed to help lift it to passage. The minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, voted against the bill, while the Democratic whip, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, voted in favor.

Quoting the 19th century lawmaker Henry Clay, Hoyer said on the House floor, “If you cannot compromise, you cannot govern.’’

Realizing that the majority was going to need Democratic votes to pass the measure and avoid a shutdown, aides said that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the number three Republican, reached out to Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat, for help yesterday. Democrats initially did not have enough firm supporters of the measure, one official said, prompting Hoyer and his allies to reach out to lawmakers and round up what ultimately amounted to 81 Democrat votes.

Congress also voted on two other measures, one to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood and another to roll back the 2010 health care overhaul. Both measures, brought to the floor as part of the deal Friday between Republicans and Democrats, failed in the Senate.

Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts voted no on the Planned Parenthood resolution, which was defeated 58 to 42. He had previously declared the cuts unfair, even as he voted to support a previous Republican version of the overall spending bill that included the cuts.

“This particular cut goes too far,’’ Brown said in a statement.

His vote earned praise from Dianne Luby, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, who said the amendment would have cut off federal funds for a range of women’s health services.

“Clearly, Senator Brown was listening to his constituents when he cast his vote to protect women’s health,’’ Luby said.

Theo Emery of the Globe staff contributed to this report.