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The House's big day: Budget deal vote, GOP nominating Ryan

Paul Ryan
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Paul Ryan

The House is poised to vote on a bipartisan pact charting a two-year budget truce and Republicans are set to nominate Rep. Paul Ryan as the chamber's new speaker, milestones GOP leaders hope will transform their party's recent chaos into calm in time for next year's presidential and congressional campaigns.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate were urging lawmakers to back the agreement, which would resolve fights over defense and domestic spending and federal borrowing until early 2017. Expectations were for House passage Wednesday and final Senate approval next week, even as hard-right conservatives and farm-state lawmakers arrayed against the deal.

"That's good news for everybody. It's a step forward," President Barack Obama said of the deal Tuesday in Chicago. "And I hope both parties come together to pass this agreement without delay."

Among those declaring victory was departing Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was pivotal in crafting what amounts to a valedictory legislative prize for his supporters and a whack at his conservative House nemeses. The quarter-century House veteran serves his final day in Congress on Friday, driven into abrupt retirement by rebellious GOP hardliners who scorned his penchant for compromise with Obama and Democrats.

"I have a gift for you, too," Boehner told his House GOP colleagues at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, after they gave him a golf cart as a parting present. He called the agreement "the best possible deal at this moment for our troops, for taxpayers and for the American people."

Without legislation, the government could lapse into an economy-jolting default next week. A partial federal shutdown would occur without action by Dec. 11.

Unyielding conservatives like members of the House Freedom Caucus railed against the agreement, calling it a backroom deal that surrendered too much to Obama.

"No wonder so many Americans distrust Congress," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the Freedom Caucus leader.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a presidential candidate, promised a filibuster, calling the package a capitulation that illustrates "why the grassroots Republicans are so angry with establishment Republicans." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed ready to use procedures to limit the delay to a few days — underscoring the conservatives' helplessness when confronted with bipartisan cooperation.

The agreement would provide an extra $80 billion,. divided evenly between the Pentagon and domestic agencies over the next two years, and extend the government's authority to borrow to pay bills into March 2017, as Obama's successor settles into the White House.

Approval would reduce the chance of partisan fights cascading into a federal shutdown or default, a relief to Republicans fearing such events would alienate voters.

A foremost beneficiary would be Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, who seemed certain to be nominated as speaker when House Republicans vote Wednesday. Boehner had said he wanted to "clean the barn" of politically messy issues so Ryan, 45, could make a fresh start.

Ryan mostly ducked reporters seeking Tuesday to hear his views on the budget package and his role, if any, crafting it.

He said only that the secret, top-level process that party leaders and the White House used to reach the accord "stinks" and promised not to operate that way as speaker. Spokesman Brendan Buck said Ryan, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, played no part in the negotiations.

Ryan's promise echoed demands of the outsider-oriented conservatives who made Boehner's life miserable because they felt he left rank-and-file lawmakers powerless. But Ryan still faces tricky consequences, no matter how he votes on the budget compromise.

If he opposes it, he would look oddly out-of-step with the same establishment Republicans who virtually browbeat him to seek the speaker post. But if he supports it, he could get off to a poor start with the roughly 40 members of the Freedom Caucus, most of whom voiced support for him last week after initially backing a long-shot rival, Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla.

The full House is scheduled to formally elect Ryan as speaker Thursday.

There was only slightly more suspense over the budget agreement. One conservative leader, Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, predicted the compromise would get 70 to 90 GOP votes, which seemed sufficient for passage when combined with what is expected to be solid support from Democrats.

The extra spending provided for in the agreement would be financed by a potpourri of savings including sales of millions of gallons from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, curbs on Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and doctors and tougher federal debt collection, including allowing federal agents to call people's cell phones.

It would trim federal subsidies to companies that sell crop insurance to farmers, creating an uproar among agriculture-state lawmakers.

The package would also avert a looming shortfall in the Social Security disability trust fund that threatened to limit benefits, and head off an unprecedented increase in Medicare premiums for doctors' visits for about 15 million beneficiaries.