WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday, 359 to 67, to approve a $1.1 trillion spending bill for the current fiscal year, shrugging off angry threats by Tea Party activists and conservative groups whose power has ebbed as Congress has moved toward fiscal cooperation.
The legislation, 1,582 pages and unveiled only two nights ago, embodies precisely what many House Republicans have railed against since the Tea Party movement began, a massive bill dropped in the cover of darkness and voted on before lawmakers could have read it.
Conservative political action committee Club For Growth denounced it and said a vote for it would hurt any lawmaker’s conservative scorecard. Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, castigated it as a profligate budget buster that returns Washington to its free-spending ways.
“Has Congress learned nothing from the Obamacare disaster?” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. “We need members in the House and the Senate who are willing to keep their campaign promises, stand up for the people, and protect Americans from Washington’s tax, borrow, spend, and spend, and spend mentality.”
The response in the Republican-led House was a collective shrug, with 166 Republicans voting for it and 64 opposing it. The Senate is expected to pass it easily this week.
“If I started voting how they want me to, versus what I think is right, then they’ve already won,” said Representative Mike Simpson, a Idaho Republican who is contending with one of the best-financed Tea Party challenges this campaign year.
The budget process that is culminating in the passage of the spending bill has ushered in a remarkable marginalization of the Republican far right. After a politically disastrous 16-day government shutdown last fall, the House voted 285 to 144 to reopen the government Oct. 16. Only 87 Republicans voted yes; 144 voted no.
‘Our people learned a lot of tough lessons in the last year, and I think you’re seeing the tough lessons applied.’
The legislation that reopened the government set the parameters for a broad budget deal that was again denounced by conservatives. But in December, that deal passed the House 332 to 94, with 169 Republicans backing it. That budget blueprint yielded more than 1,500 pages of fine print.
For ardent conservatives, the spending bill passed by the House Wednesday represented a tangible backslide from fiscal discipline, a $45 billion increase in spending compared with where the budget would have been had House Republicans let another round of automatic spending cuts take effect.
Yet it passed the House with an even greater margin — and even more Republican votes.
“Our people learned a lot of tough lessons in the last year, and I think you’re seeing the tough lessons applied,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma.
In the process, Speaker John A. Boehner has reasserted control over his fractious Republican conference, leaving his far-right flank angry and isolated. His denunciations of outside conservative groups leave conditions in which members must choose sides, and they have.
“The Tea Party groups and conservative movement in America gave the speaker his speakership, and I think it’s time for us to be grateful for what these outside groups have done,” said Representative Raul Labrador, Republican of Idaho.
But most have aligned with the speaker in what Republican leaders say is a growing realization that incremental moves toward governance are better than the purist, ideological stands demanded by the right.
“We can push large ideas out of the House and say, ‘This is what we feel is the right thing to do,’ but if we’re going to actually move things, they’re going to have to be smaller things,” said Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of Republican leadership.
The Heritage Foundation drafted a lengthy to-do list for the huge spending bill, which included prohibiting funds to build a prison in the United States to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay; eliminating all money for Vice President Joe Biden’s high-speed rail projects; cutting the operating budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service; providing money for private school vouchers for the District of Columbia; and significantly reducing the IRS budget.
All of those requests were carried out, yet Heritage Action demanded a no vote.