Parties come together, vote to keep federal government open

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z Parties come together, vote to keep federal government openLisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli Mcclatchy Newspapers Arizona Daily Star

WASHINGTON - Sending President Obama a bill Thursday that averts a government shutdown, Congress proved that it can, in fact, function. Not long ago, this was considered an unlikely outcome.

Republicans in the House, trying to force Obama to accept deep cuts, had come close to shutting down the government before and appeared primed to do so again.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has united his rambunctious majority ever so tenuously around a strategy that, for now, sets aside cycle-of-crisis politics to aim for long-range objectives.

Not only did lawmakers hold their fire to approve the budget legislation 318-109, they did so ahead of schedule - without the midnight-hour brinkmanship that has come to characterize Congress and its dealings with the White House.

That let politicians slip past a critical deadline without damaging their reputations or the economy. The bill, which needs to become law by Wednesday, keeps the government open through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. The parties agreed to continue the deep "sequester" cuts but found common cause and created bipartisan coalitions to lessen the impact on their favored programs.

When House Republicans shifted money to ensure embassies are secured and the Border Patrol stays at full force, the Democrats who control the Senate obliged.

Senators, meanwhile, reached across the aisle to craft amendments to keep meat inspectors on the job, fund a tuition-assistance program for service members and spare a few thousand children from child-care cuts. The Republican-led House did not flinch, though Boehner did need Democratic votes to get it over the finish line.

This display of pragmatic governing, however, may be fleeting. The deal Boehner made with his party's conservative majority also sets up the next clash.

Even as the House voted Thursday to fund the government for the next six months, Republicans also pushed through an austere budget plan that would balance revenues and spending in 10 years. But the Senate soundly defeated that bill 50-49 later Thursday night.

In the Senate, Democrats are expected to approve their own 10-year budget plan today that goes in the opposite direction. Democrats want wealthier Americans and corporations to pay more to lower the deficit while investing some new revenue in transportation, education and public employees to create jobs.

"Even though we got two political parties with competing ideologies, the American people expect us to find common ground," Boehner said Thursday.

In the Senate, Democrats have shown little interest in negotiating as Republicans have used almost every procedural weapon to push an agenda in stark contrast to one advocated by Obama.

Hostage taking, as the White House calls the GOP approach, has its limits, and polls show voters agree.

Earlier this year, at a tony retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Boehner tapped Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., along with the House's top conservatives, to engineer a strategy that could provide a more measured approach to the GOP goals.

The outcome has become known as the Williamsburg accord. The House GOP would fast-forward past day-to-day battles - such as keeping the government running - to a more lofty one: approval of a balanced budget.

S. Arizona votes

How Southern Arizona's U.S. House members voted on legislation to fund the government through Sept. 30. The bill goes to President Obama:

• Ron Barber, D - yes

• Raúl Grijalva, D - no

• Ann Kirkpatrick, D - yes

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