U.S. House passes budget: How Minnesotans voted

US Capitol
A view of the US Capitol Building's Rotunda.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

After nearly three years of almost nonstop parliamentary combat that led to a downgrade of the nation's debt rating and a government shutdown, Republicans and Democrats have agreed to end the Washington Budget Wars of 2011 to 2013.

The last-minute deal puts both the Republican-controlled House and the Senate led by Democrats on the same page about how much the federal government should spend over the next two years. On Thursday, the House approved the deal, which also has leaders of the two parties in rare agreement.

The legislation, backed by the White House, cleared on a vote of 332-94, with lopsided majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike voting in favor. Final passage is expected next week in the Senate.

Minnesota Representatives Tim Walz (D), John Kline (R), Erik Paulsen (R), Betty McCollum (D), Collin Peterson (D), Rick Nolan (D) all voted in favor of the budget bill. Representatives Keith Ellison (D), and Michele Bachmann (R) voted against it.

In a statement after the vote, Bachmann said the "budget does provide some much-needed certainty to job creators and small business owners. But ultimately this deal is too far removed from the balanced budget that the American people deserve, which is why I could not support it."

Walz, though he voted in favor of the measure, also criticized "a cut to the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under 62 years of age" and advocated a "full audit of the Pentagon" to look for waste.

Its approval will eliminate a roadblock on the Appropriation Committee, where work has been stymied because the two parties haven't been able to agree on how much the government should spend.

"So the fact we have one number to work off of, I'm thrilled about that," said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat who is the delegation's only member of the Appropriations Committee.

McCollum, who represents Minnesota's 4th District, said the next two years should be smoother than the past few.

"You know, in big lakes, when the water gets choppy, you look for a safe harbor," she said. "With this budget agreement, we will not have a shutdown. Not having a shutdown, that's our safe harbor."

Still, most lawmakers welcomed the agreement wearily, rather than enthusiastically, after years of deadline clocks and brinksmanship.

"It would be nice to be able to work on actual legislation and not go into a crisis every three months," Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken said.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who represents the state's 1st District, backed the deal in part because it prevents additional cuts to the Pentagon.

But Kline, a member of the House leadership who is close to Speaker John Boehner, said he would have liked far more deficit reduction than the additional $20 billion that's part of the agreement.

"To really get there, you need major entitlement reform. We couldn't get that, but we got some small reform," Kline said.

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents the 3rd District, said he was disappointed the deal doesn't do more but nonetheless supports it.

"The good news, I think we've set some precedents even by extending the sequester for another two years," Paulsen said. "I think that's going to bring increased pressure on Congress to deal with entitlement reforms."

The small reform Kline cites in the deal is a measure that requires newly-hired federal workers to contribute more towards the cost of their pensions.

Many Democrats also back that provision, but not the most liberal ones, such as U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of the 5th District.

"As members of Congress," he said, "we're often boxed into a situation where, do you want something that's really horrible or do you want something else that's really horrible? Those are your only two choices.

"So in this situation, it's like, 'we're going to shut the government down or we're going to move forward on this bill that's going to take another notch out of federal workers,'" he said, citing hiring and pay freezes, the government shutdown and budget cuts that have been targeted at the federal workforce in the past three years.

Democrats aren't the only party with internal divisions about the deal.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who represents Minnesota's 6th District, was among a small group of Republicans who signed a letter urging GOP leaders to ignore any agreement in order to keep spending levels lower. Bachmann's office didn't respond to an interview request.

Conservative groups that helped push for the government shutdown in October immediately condemned the deal after it was announced on Tuesday.

Kline, who is facing a tea party challenger next year, said those groups were unrealistic about what could be accomplished under divided government.

"Some of them, to have a football analogy, every single play in the playbook has got to be a pass to the end zone," he said.

While no one loves the agreement, lawmakers of all stripes say it should make legislating easier next year.

But the way the deal was reached, through high-level talks between Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairs of the Senate and House Budget Committees, irritates some members of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 8th District, said those negotiations are indicative of why Congress has reached all time lows in its approval ratings.

"There's 535 members of Congress," Nolan said. "What the hell are Patty Murray and Paul Ryan doing all the negotiation for the rest of us?"

Nolan's first stint in Congress was in the 1970s, when the body followed long accepted rules and procedures. That was also a time when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate and agreements were easier to reach.

One open question in Washington is whether the budget agreement represents the beginnings of a return to normal lawmaking on Capitol Hill or whether it's a last, lowest common denominator deal ahead of midterm elections in 2014.

Among the optimists is Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"It's not the major deal that would create, I think, the balanced approach we need going forward for years," Klobuchar said. "But I do think it's a very positive step forward in the right direction."

Reporting from The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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