Updated 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12
By a vote of 332-94, the U.S. House overwhelmingly backed a compromise two-year budget deal Thursday night -- in effect, rejecting pressure from conservative groups staunchly opposed to the measure.
The Senate is expected to swiftly follow suit.
Those in the House backing the bill included U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who appeared on CNBC's "Kudlow Report" after the vote to laud the budget deal's provisions as "gifts that will keep on giving."
Wagner said she was disappointed that the deal didn't address the "debt-drivers'' of the major entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, but that she viewed the compromise as acceptable until the 2014 elections, when Republicans hope to capture the Senate and bolster their House majority.
Wagner contended that the co-crafter of the measure -- House Budget chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., -- had "saved the American people'' from further budget fights that some feared might have led to a replay of the October government shutdown.
But Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said he couldn't support the budget package. "While I appreciate the time and effort that went into crafting this budget deal, I ultimately cannot support this plan because it increases spending without guaranteed deficit reduction measures. Simply put this agreement raises revenue and spends more money." said Smith. "I would much rather see the automatic spending cuts from the Budget Control Act exchanged for targeted spending cuts instead of being traded for more revenue. Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem."
However, the overall vote reflected the predictions of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who was outspoken earlier Thursday in urging his House Republican colleagues to ignore the calls from conservative groups to kill the budget deal.
Blunt expressed sentiment shared by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, when he exhorted House Republicans to “just try to do the right thing for country.”
“Apparently the ‘right thing’ is less and less likely to coincide with outside groups who appear to be against everything,” the senator told reporters during a conference call Thursday morning.
The plan had been crafted by Ryan and Senate Budget chair Patty Murray, D-Wash. It is aimed at preventing another government shutdown and easing some of the sequester cuts, which were deemed as particularly harsh on the nation’s military.
The provisions include a cap on 2014 spending of $1.012 trillion, and replacing $63 billion in scheduled sequester cuts.
Outside pressure was blamed for much of the silence by rank-and-file House members, including Wagner, prior to the final vote. Wagner and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, had said earlier that they were still studying the details.
While not singling out the outside groups by name, Blunt appeared to be taking on the Heritage Foundation – now headed by former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R- S.C. -- and the Club for Growth, both of which are lobbying against the budget deal’s passage because, they say, it fails to cut enough.
“We have a real challenge in the country when people who have no responsibility to arrive at a conclusion are critical of whatever the conclusion is, on every instance,” Blunt said. “The Congress would be well advised not to do its job based on anybody’s rating.”
Blunt said he still had some questions about the provisions of the deal. Notably, he cited reported cuts in pensions for military personnel who retire before they’re 62, but with 20 years of service, and more cuts proposed for medical providers under Medicare. He contended that the latter could make it more difficult for the elderly to find physicians willing to treat them.
Still, Blunt said he was pleased that the budget deal did set a maximum figure for federal spending for each of the next two years, which he said was no small achievement.
“Agree right now to a top line on spending, and then allocate that top line between the 12 appropriations bills and bring them to the floor,” Blunt said. “That could be the best single benefit.”
When it comes to federal spending bills, Blunt said, his mantra for congressional action was to “debate them, amend them, defend them.”
For too many years, he said, the Congress has ignored that responsibility by approving "continuing resolutions'' that simply extend current levels of spending, without examining whether priorities or spending levels needed to be changed.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., had told reporters Wednesday that she was just pleased that there was a budget deal to vote on. “I am really pleased that we have a budget compromise. That’s a new thing around here,” she said.
McCaskill said she also remained committed to cutting federal spending, but wanted it done in a smart way. She cited her work chairing the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight, which is examining "multiple programs dealing with foreign investment,'' as the senator put it. McCaskill is seeking to "streamline or eliminate duplicative programs."
The proposed budget deal will force such efforts to continue, she said. "It's a good deal because it's going to allow continued tightening of the belt."
"It's not a great deal, but that's because it's a compromise," McCaskill said. “This is something everybody doesn’t like that much, which means that it’s a compromise."
What was just as important, she added, is that the budget agreement “shows we can get our work done and that the government can function.”