WASHINGTON -- Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan played something of a punt-returner Thursday -- returning to Congress from the campaign trail to help the House of Representatives kick a thorny budget problem into next year.
Bucking his own budget proposals and Tea Party groups who had hoped to cut spending, Ryan (R-Wis.) joined many other Republicans and Democrats in passing a six-month "continuing resolution" that would ensure the government keeps operating through March, but hikes spending by $19 billion.
The passage of the resolution -- which raises spending to $1.047 trilion from the $1.028 trillion in the House-passed 2013 budget -- was seen by many as a lesser evil because it temporarily deals with the mandatory spending cuts in the "sequester" that make up part of the looming "fiscal cliff." It also would ensure there won't be another threat of a government shut down at the end of September, just ahead of the November election.
Many Republicans swallowed hard to pass the measure, acknowledging the difficulty of dealing with budget fights amid a presidential election battle.
"When we're 50 days out from an election, politics starts to take over," Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) told reporters at a press conference earlier in the day. "Am I happy that we are -- look, in many ways, rearrange the chairs on the Titanic?" he said, implying that he was not.
"This six-month continuing resolution ... will keep the government's doors open and its wheels turning," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It's a necessary bill that ensures that the congress is doing its job, even if this is not our preferred way of going about doing it."
Ryan did not address reporters about his break from the campaign trail, saying only he was excited to be back after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for an hour before the votes.
Tea Party groups had called on the GOP to stand firm, and were especially angered that the measure continues to fund the health care reform law.
“This Thursday’s vote will reveal to Americans who is serious about repealing Obamacare in full, and who cares more about reelection,” Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots' national coordinator, said in a statement. “For Congress, it’s always ‘next time:’ next time they’ll cut the promised $100 billion, next time they’ll vote to maintain the debt ceiling, next time they’ll pass a budget, next time they’ll repeal Obamacare."
The Senate is expected to follow suit and pass the measure next week, although some Democrats are concerned about cuts to transportation funding and could try to force changes.
Left hanging is the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts at the end of the year, which many economists believe could push the economy back into recession. Democrats and Republicans remained deadlocked on the issue, with Democrats proposing to keep the tax breaks for those with an annual income under $250,000 -- about 98 percent of the country and 97 percent of small businesses. Republicans are insisting on extending all the cuts, but ending newer breaks passed in 2009 aimed at aiding the middle class.
The House also passed a measure that would compel the president to replace the sequester -- the mandatory $1.2 trillion in cuts to defense and domestic programs that Congress agreed to in order to raise the nation's debt ceiling. The measure lacks support in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the more drastic cuts to domestic spending that the GOP is seeking.