Plenty of Republicans might not like the budget deal, but only one of them, apparently, despises the deal enough to side against GOP leadership on the procedural votes for the bill — perhaps the last best chance for conservative members to sink the budget compromise.
Indeed, the rule for floor debate on the budget was adopted 226-195, with Walter B. Jones of North Carolina as the only Republican to break with his party and vote against the rule.
Voting against the previous question would have given Democrats control of the floor to potentially add a vote on an unemployment insurance extension. But Republicans weren’t going to let that happen. Once again, Jones was the only member to break with his leadership to vote against the previous question, which was ordered on an otherwise party-line vote of 227-194.
Now the only obstacle to passage of the budget in the House is a single vote expected for later Thursday.
On the rule, debate between Republicans and Democrats — namely between Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., and House Budget ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and then later between Woodall and House Rules ranking Democrat Louise M. Slaughter of New York — was heated Thursday.
Woodall and Van Hollen went back and forth on the floor debating whether it was appropriate to add an unemployment insurance extension to the budget deal.
Van Hollen characterized the budget deal as a compromise violated after Republicans decided to tie, at the last minute, a vote on the budget deal to three months of relief for physicians who faced looming Medicare payment cuts.
That relief was not part of the original agreement, and Van Hollen and other Democrats argued that if lawmakers were going to make an exception for the so-called “doc fix,” then the House should add an extension for unemployment insurance.
“We said if we do a doc fix for three months, we should do a UI extension for three months," Van Hollen said of the budget talks. “If we do a doc fix for a year, we should deal with the UI issue for a year.”
Woodall said Congress wasn’t going to solve the unemployment insurance issue in an hour — the allotted time for debate on the rule — and that the energy of Democrats was better spent on efforts that actually could achieve their goal.
But Van Hollen asked Woodall to yield for a question, and when Woodall did, Van Hollen redirected the argument as a question of whether Democrats should have the opportunity to vote on unemployment insurance if Republicans had the opportunity to vote for a doc fix.
“Reclaiming my time,” Woodall interjected, “I would say to my friend, I wouldn't want anyone to be confused who is listening to this debate that we can't find agreement on this in a bipartisan way.”
Democrats continued to rip into Republicans for not giving a vote on the issue.
Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, brought an empty box to the floor, making the point that Republicans were giving 1.3 million Americans affected by the unemployment insurance issue an empty box for Christmas.
And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged Republicans to vote against the rule so that Democrats could amend it and add an unemployment insurance extension, which she said would be an economic boon.
“Republicans never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity when it comes to creating jobs,” she said.
The floor got particularly contentious when Woodall said, “One of the worst things we do in this institution is create fears in the minds of the American people,” somehow turning the budget debate into an extended speech on Obamacare.
“Mr. Woodall,” Slaughter said, directly addressing her Republican counterpart in contravention of the House rules, “if you believe anything at all that you have just said, I understand what's going on here.”
Slaughter said Woodall’s tactic was to “blame everything in the world on Obamacare” and then characterize giving health insurance to the unemployed as “a crime in the House of Representatives.”
“It will not be there, Mr. Woodall. They could lose their housing. They could lose their food. They may even be put into the streets. There is a meanness that's going on in this,” she said.
Woodall once again interjected to say he didn’t mean to suggest any “meanness.”
Woodall watched as Democrat after Democrat came to the floor to insist on a vote for unemployment insurance.
When all but the last few minutes had expired, Woodall ended his floor speech with an increasingly familiar refrain on the budget deal.
“This is not a grand agreement,” he said. “It's not the grand agreement I've been fighting for in the Budget Committee for the last three years, but what it is is a small step in the right direction.”