The Congress on Thursday approved a budget deal to avert a government shutdown, but mass defections in both parties highlighted the difficult fights ahead on spending and debt reduction.
In a bipartisan 260-167 vote, the House of Representatives passed the compromise struck last week by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to cut $38 billion in spending for the current fiscal year that ends September 30.
About one-fourth of House Republicans and more than half of Democrats opposed the deal, with Republicans arguing the cuts were not deep enough and Democrats fearing they would hurt lower-income Americans.
The Senate later passed the bill by an 81-19 vote and sent it to Obama for his signature, with 15 Republicans, three Democrats and one independent voting no.
The defections raised questions about the ability of Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Obama, a Democrat, to keep their party members in line during the next round of showdowns on raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit and passing a budget for the 2012 fiscal year budget.
Boehner had been under pressure to show he could get the 218 votes he needed to pass the budget deal without Democratic support, which would have strengthened his hand in the coming negotiations. But he fell short.
“My guess is that he’s not going to be sleeping all that well tonight,” said Stan Collender, a budget analyst with Qorvis Communications in Washington.
Obama made long-term debt reduction a priority on Wednesday in a speech calling for cutting $4 trillion of the budget deficit over 12 years, ensuring the issue will be a prime focus during his 2012 re-election campaign.
Both leaders have been whipsawed on the budget issue by conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats unhappy with the compromises made to reach a final deal.
“There are going to be some areas where we don’t agree, but we can get a process going,” Obama told ABC News in an interview. “And some of it will be settled by the American people in the election.”
NEW CBO REPORT
The House vote came after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office circulated a new estimate that found the budget deal’s actual impact on government spending was likely to fall short of the agreed $38 billion cut.
Rather, the CBO said, it would reduce spending by $20 billion to $25 billion over the coming years, because many of the cuts would have no impact on the government’s bottom line.
Representative Bill Huizenga, one of a crop of newly elected Republicans who have shown little interest in compromise, said he voted against the measure because it did not cut spending enough.
“I couldn’t go back and look at my constituents and say, ‘Mission accomplished’,” he told reporters, arguing the Republican defections could actually strengthen Boehner’s hand in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate.