By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican co-author of a rare bipartisan budget deal in Congress defended the agreement from opposition in his own party on Sunday as an asset that could help Republicans capture the Senate next year and the White House in 2016.
In a pair of televised interviews, House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the deal he struck with Democratic Senator Patty Murray could also bring progress on tax reform, but there was little chance of a “grand deficit reduction bargain” as long as the Senate and White House were controlled by Democrats.
“We need to win a couple of elections. This, I believe, helps us better do that,” Ryan of Wisconsin, who was the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, told “Fox News Sunday.”
“It allows us to focus on laying out our conservative vision in 2014. We’re going to have to win the Senate and we’re going to have to win the White House to truly fix this country’s fiscal problems,” he said.
But the deal that easily cleared the House last week still was short of votes to pass the Senate because of Republican opposition, assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin said on Sunday.
“The struggle is still on in the United States Senate. We will need about eight Republicans to come our way. I feel we’ll have a good strong showing from the Democratic side, but we need bipartisan support to pass it,” Durbin, of Illinois, said on the CBS “Face the Nation” program.
The Senate is set to vote on the measure in coming days before Congress heads out for a holiday recess.
Ryan described the deal in terms to appeal to voters fed up with gridlock and bickering in Congress, saying it would reduce the federal deficit without raising taxes, put the economy on a firmer foundation and get Congress back to its job of paying bills and setting spending priorities.
“We’re not saying this is a massive agreement. It just gets government working,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he appeared with Murray, of Washington.
But a number of conservative Republicans have criticized the deal for putting off major spending cuts and avoiding most tough issues, such as controlling spending on programs for the elderly.
Democrats also said they didn’t get all they wanted, but the deal could address issues important to their party’s constituents.
“A budget agreement really is about how we can manage this country’s resources so we can have the things I do care passionately about, whether it’s education or healthcare or transportation infrastructure,” Murray said.
THREATS OF SHUTDOWNS
The deal, which passed the House 332-94 on Thursday, sets spending levels for two years and breaks the recent pattern of short-term funding bills that have required frequent renewal under the threat of government shutdowns like the 16-day closure in October.
Voters nationally blamed October’s shutdown on Republicans, particularly those backed by the small-government Tea Party movement. Republicans went on to lose elections in Virginia and Alabama as their poll numbers plunged.
Ryan said the deal would help in upcoming contests by allowing Republicans to concentrate on the administration’s botched rollout of the “Obamacare” healthcare law, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
“For the economy, no shutdowns. We also don’t want to have shutdown drama so that we can focus on replacing Obamacare, so that we can focus on showing better ideas than what this is coming in. Because we don’t think people like this law,” Ryan said on NBC.
But the deal, which passed with support from most House Republicans, is facing Republican resistance in the Senate.
“It’s a tough vote for them because of this Tea Party threat,” Durbin said on CBS, noting several Republican senators are considering presidential runs and others are facing primary challenges from Tea Party-backed candidates.
He said that in addition to Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who has said he will support the measure, “We have a handful (of Republicans), but we need more. Some are still thinking about it.”
While Ryan portrayed the budget deal as a Republican asset, it caused a bitter ideological feud within the party to boil over in public as conservative groups including FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Club for Growth sought to undermine the agreement, prompting House Speaker John Boehner to accuse them of “misleading their followers.”
Ryan told NBC that Boehner “just kind of got his Irish up” because the groups voiced their opposition publicly before an agreement was reached.
“These are very important elements of our conservative family. I would prefer to keep those conversations within the family,” Ryan said.
Another test of Republican unity could be next year’s deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling.
Conservatives, particularly those backed by the Tea Party, have routinely opposed debt ceiling increases and twice brought the government to the brink of default that could have had devastating economic effects. Further brinkmanship could create new drama in 2014, and widen a rift between the party’s small-government wing and its pro-businesses advocates.
“We as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight,” Ryan said on Fox.