WASHINGTON -- House Republicans narrowly pulled off a risky maneuver Wednesday by passing a budget that will boost defense spending, following a rift within the party that led GOP leadership to propose two competing plans.
Republican leaders put two budgets on the House floor, betting that the two divided factions of the party -- defense hawks and deficit hawks -- would unite behind the version with increased Pentagon funding and prove that the GOP can govern.
The plans were put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.). Both sought to drastically cut spending through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, child care credits and other welfare programs, but one -- dubbed Price #2 -- provided a sizable bump for the Pentagon and the other -- Price #1 -- did not.
After voting on both versions Wednesday, the House passed Price #2 by a vote of 219-208. Several members switched to vote in favor of Price #2 on a subsequent vote that finalized the adoption of the proposal. The final vote was 228-199, with 17 Republicans still voting against.
House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said that passing the budget "was a very unifying experience."
He admitted, however, that it took time to get the party's factions in line.
"Budgets are always tough. We worked hard for weeks to bring fiscal and defense hawks together," Scalise said. "A lot of people thought it couldn't get done."
The plan funnels an additional $20 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which pays for the U.S. to fight in conflicts abroad. OCO is not subject to the automatic budget caps imposed by sequestration.
Price #1 was rejected, with 105 House members, all Republicans, voting for it and 319 opposed -- 139 Republicans and 180 Democrats.
But although the leadership pushed its favored plan through, deficit hawks made it clear that they were not eager to fall in line: Twenty-six Republicans split with party leadership, refusing to vote for more defense spending.
Republicans offered the second, more defense-friendly budget after a number of conservatives complained that Price #1, which passed out of the House Budget Committee last week, did not provide enough military funding.
The unusual tactic -- known as "Queen of the Hill" -- comes shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders faced an embarrassing setback during the Department of Homeland Security funding debate, which left the party internally split and facing skepticism about whether it would be capable of accomplishing much this year. Passage of the budget was a key win for for Republican leadership.
On Tuesday, Scalise had appeared confident that Price #2 would pass.
"It's going to be a very important moment for our conference. ... I think you're going to see a very unified House Republican conference on the floor Wednesday," Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a press conference.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, pressed his Republican colleagues on Tuesday to vote for the version that increased defense spending.
“I strongly urge members to vote against Price #1 and to vote for Price #2 in order to meet the minimum amount of funding needed to support our military and to defend our country,” Thornberry said in a late-night plea.
But libertarian congressman Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) took to Facebook on Wednesday to make the opposing case, arguing that by passing a budget increasing defense spending, Republicans would "set the dangerous precedent that violating the 2011 budget deal and sequester are acceptable, that more national debt is just fine."
"We'll have joined with Pres. Obama in obliterating even the pretense of fiscal responsibility," Amash wrote.
No Democrats voted for Price #2, with all 182 lawmakers who were present voting against it. Like the GOP deficit hawks, congressional Democrats consider the additional defense funding a "gimmick" and call OCO a “slush fund." However, they railed against both versions of the budget, arguing that both boosted defense spending but did nothing for domestic programs.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen the chairman of the House Budget Committee bring two Republican budgets to the floor. Price 1 and Price 2 -- I don’t know which Price is right, but from our perspective they are both wrong,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen told reporters on Wednesday during a joint press conference with Senate Democrats.
“They both essentially play games with how we fund defense. If you fund defense you should do it in a straight-up manner,” Van Hollen said.
The White House accused Republicans of prioritizing tax breaks for "billionaires and millionaires."
"House Republicans voted in favor of locking in draconian sequestration cuts to investments in the middle class like education, job training and manufacturing," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement Wednesday evening. "The Republican priorities stand in stark contrast to the President’s plan to reverse sequestration and bring middle class economics into the 21st Century."
Democrats offered three budgets of their own, which also received votes on Wednesday. All failed, with Van Hollen's budget proposal receiving the most Democratic votes, though it was rejected 160-264.
The House also rejected a much more conservative version of the GOP budget put forward by the Republican Study Committee, in a 132-294 vote.
The Senate, for its part, is wading through its own budget battle, which is expected to culminate in a late-night voting session on Thursday.
While Senate Republicans are optimistic that their budget will sail smoothly through the upper chamber, allowing them to move to conference with their House counterparts, Democrats are betting on more conflict.
“Reconciliation will lead to more Republican infighting, more wasted time, because the end result will most certainly face a presidential veto,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday, referring to the process Republicans plan to use to repeal Obamacare.
Asked whether the split between defense and deficit hawks within the Republican party gives leverage to Democrats and the president, Schumer replied, “Absolutely.”
“They may be able to paper over their differences during the budget process. But they are not going to be able to paper over their divisions when it comes to appropriations, when it comes to reconciliation, things like that,” Schumer said. “And so the fact that they are divided, and that they have two factions -- a defense hawk faction and a budget hawk faction -- is going to play very badly for them down the road.”
This article has been updated to include White House comment.
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