House Republicans choose new speaker, OKs budget deal
Washington — House Republicans embraced a new leader Wednesday and swiftly consented to a major budget-and-debt deal to avert a federal financial crisis, highlights of a day of dramatic fresh starts at the Capitol after years of division and disarray.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate and a telegenic spokesman for conservative priorities, was nominated by his colleagues in a secret-ballot election to serve as speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency. The full House will confirm that choice on Thursday.
“This begins a new day in the House of Representatives,” Ryan, 45, said after the vote. “We are turning the page.”
Immediately after choosing Ryan to chart a new course for their fractured party, Republicans trooped onto the House floor to cast votes on a huge two-year budget deal struck in recent days between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders of both parties.
The agreement, approved 266-167, would raise the government’s borrowing limit through March of 2017, averting an unprecedented default just days away. It would also set the budget of the federal government for the next two years, lifting onerous spending caps and steering away from the brinkmanship and shutdown threats that have haunted Congress for years.
Most of the “no” votes were from Republicans, but 79 GOP lawmakers voted for approval, including Michigan Republicans Dan Benishek of Crystall Falls, Candice Miller of Harrison Township and Fred Upton of St. Joseph. The Michigan delegation’s six other Republicans voted no.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, stressed that the budget deal would prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debts, protects seniors from a 50 percent hike in their monthly Medicare Part B premiums, and ensures that millions of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance wouldn’t see a 20 percent cut in benefits.
“It is fiscally responsible, while not undermining or changing the structure of vital programs in any way,” Levin said on the House floor.
Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland was among the 167 Republicans who voted in opposition to the budget agreement. “It takes us further down the path of more debt and doesn’t have the necessary reforms to some of the automatic spending that’s driving our deficits and long-term debt,” Moolenaar told The Detroit News.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, lamented that the budget agreement would largely eliminate opportunities for Republicans to reduce spending for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. He also said the deal circumvented the committee process and missed a thorough vetting by members of Congress.
“A solid piece of legislation,” declared outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who played a key role in engineering the accord after announcing his resignation last month following a quarter-century in Congress and nearly five years in the speaker’s chair. Boehner was beset by intractable divisions between the party’s pragmatists and purists, but those will now be Ryan’s to resolve.
Ryan sounded an optimistic note.
“We are not going to have a House that looks like it looked the last two years,” he said. “We are going to move forward, we are going to unify. Our party has lost its vision, and we are going to replace it with a vision.”
Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Burke contributed.