Boehner Allies Say Budget Deal With Obama Will Boost Republican 2016 Nominee
If the budget deal he has struck with the White House and Democrats becomes law, House Speaker John Boehner's parting gift to Republicans will be to take the specter of government shutdowns and debt default off the table until after the next president is elected. It's a move that some in the party believe could help their White House nominee in the general election, although a number of the candidates went out of their way to kick the Ohio Republican on his way out the door.
"The most important thing we can do for the Republican presidential nominee is to make sure, frankly, we're not an issue in his or her campaign next year. And to make sure we're not talking about government shutdowns and cliffs and crises while the American people are making their final decision on who ought to be the next president of the United States," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a Boehner ally. "I think it's a very important step in giving the Republican nominee a better chance of actually prevailing next fall."
Not that he's expecting any public thanks from the candidates vying for the nomination, some of whom have taken a hardline against government spending to appeal to the Republican party's conservative base. "The irony of this deal is some people will criticize it that are going to benefit from it," Cole said.
Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who is supporting Jeb Bush for president, called the deal a net win. "No more drama, no more self-inflicted wounds and congressionally generated crises," he said. "It'll help the country."
The two-year accord lifts spending caps from established levels by about $80 billion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, divided evenly between domestic and military spending. It extends the debt ceiling until March 2017. It also replenishes the Social Security Disability Insurance fund before it dips in the red in the upcoming months.
The Social Security component prevents a showdown in an election year about benefit cuts for the elderly, a thorny issue that had the potential to trip up Republicans.
As Republican leaders often try to impress upon the rank-and-file, brinkmanship has been dangerous for the party. In 2013, a 16-day shutdown caused by a failed pursuit to defund Obamacare collapsed the Republican Party's approval rating (albeit temporarily) to an all-time low, according to Gallup. Defaulting on the debt would be far more damaging, potentially sparking a mass economic panic, experts say.
But the spending increases, secretive negotiations and intent to rush a vote on the deal—which could come as early as Wednesday in the House—have drawn conservative opposition, which could make it hard for Republican presidential hopefuls to support it. A new AP-GfK poll shows that majorities of Republican voters want to use threats of shutdown and debt default to force spending cuts.
Norm Ornstein, an expert on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, said the "anger against the establishment" with the Republican electorate is "probably going to grow" as a result of upcoming congressional actions such as the budget deal.
Indeed, some of the more conservative lawmakers strongly oppose the accord.
"It's probably the worst of the worst," said Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, a founding member of the hardline group House Freedom Caucus. "Putting together a very complex bill and giving members less than 48 hours to read it, study it and vote on it with virtually no input."
Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona objected to the spending hikes, describing the deal as "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Boehner intends to wrap up the bill before he leaves Congress at the end of the week and relinquishes the Speaker's gavel, likely to Representative Paul Ryan, who has secured strong support for the job from fellow Republicans. The deal is also a gift to Boehner's successor, taking some of the toughest challenges off his plate for the session.
Presidential candidates, including several who will be voting on it—Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida—didn't immediately weigh in on the budget deal. But some on-the-fence Republicans saw at least some political upside.
Representative Bill Flores of Texas, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said taking shutdowns and default off the table for Ryan and the presidential nominee is "one of the positive attributes" of the deal, though he has concerns about the substance and wouldn't commit to supporting it.
"The principal goal of Democrats is to try to engineer this country into a shutdown that they can blame Republicans for. This has been their plan from the beginning," said Representative Trent Franks of Arizona. He added that the deal "helps a great deal" when it comes from preventing Republicans from being blamed for shutdowns.
"But the truth is a government that can't even gain a vote on a fair issue in the Senate—the argument can be made it's shut down already," he said.