By Susan Davis
WASHINGTON - The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved, 332-94, a two-year bipartisan budget framework Thursday that will eliminate the threat of a government shutdown and modestly reduce the deficit over the next decade.
Nearly equal numbers of Republicans, 169, and Democrats, 163, supported the agreement.
"We see this as a step in the right direction on the way toward our ultimate goal," said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who crafted the deal with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Ryan said Republicans need to face the realities of divided government and focus on governing -- and winning elections -- if they hope to advance more fiscally conservative proposals in the future.
The agreement sets top-line federal spending figures through fiscal year 2015 and partially alleviates unpopular spending cuts known as the sequester. Federal spending on defense and domestic programs will be capped at $1.012 trillion in fiscal year 2014, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015.
It does not affect spending on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
While the legislation passed with GOP and Democratic support, neither side expressed enthusiasm about the scope of the deal. "We fought it to a draw," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She said the deal would allow Congress to move on and debate other issues beyond the fiscal disagreements that have defined the previous three years.
"Let's get to it. Let's get her off the table. Let's move on to addressing specific issues," she said.
House Republicans largely lined up behind Ryan, despite ongoing opposition from outside conservative groups and GOP senators. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, denounced the efforts to derail the deal, accusing groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth of "misleading their followers."
"Frankly, I just think that they've lost all credibility," Boehner told reporters.
His comments ratcheted up an ongoing rhetorical fight between the groups and congressional Republicans. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe responded: "When it comes to 'credibility,' actions speak louder than words. And right now, it looks like the speaker is leading the charge for spending increases and recruiting Democrat votes in the House to help get it done."
A vote on the package is expected next week in the Senate, but Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., cautioned Thursday that Democrats will need at least five Republicans to support the package to ensure they can overcome a filibuster threat. So far, GOP senators who have publicly stated their position are opposed, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and the top Republican on the Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not yet said how he intends to vote.