Arkansas delegation divided as House advances budget deal

WASHINGTON — A resolution aimed at avoiding another contentious budget showdown in January advanced Thursday in the House even as Arkansas lawmakers were divided on its merits.

The House voted, 332 to 94, in favor of the budget resolution that would nullify about $63 billion in mandatory across-the-board cuts over the next two years. The cuts would be made up through a combination of other budget savings and fee hikes estimated to be worth $85 billion over 10 years — allowing for an additional $23 billion reduction in the deficit.

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, voted for the proposal while Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, opposed it.

The Senate is expected to take up the resolution next week before adjourning for the year.

Womack, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, spoke on the House floor in favor of the deal hammered out between Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“This is putting us in a position to end on a positive note here as we approach the Christmas and holiday season,” Womack said. “This agreement, while not perfect, gives us the opportunity to take government shutdowns off the table and restore funding to important defense programs.”

A budget impasse earlier this year shuttered the federal government for 16 days staring Oct. 1 at a cost to the U.S. economy of about $24 billion, according to Beth Ann Bovino, an economist at Standard & Poor’s.

Cotton issued a statement before the vote saying he would oppose the budget deal, raising doubts that promised long-term spending cuts would actually materialize.

“Arkansans are tired of the Washington ‘long-term,’ which never seems to arrive,” he said. “While the budget rightly asks federal employees to contribute more to their generous pensions and restores some needed funding for our military, these modest gains come at the expense of hard-won fiscal discipline.”

Crawford announced Wednesday that he planned to opposed the resolution, citing similar concerns.

“Absent some form of permanent spending control, a non-binding budget resolution will only allow for future Congresses to circumvent statutory spending caps when they so desire,” he said.

Griffin said the budget deal was the lesser of two evils.

“I am no fan of this agreement, but I reluctantly supported it because it is better than a government shutdown,” he said. “As a conservative, I would have preferred and proudly supported a clean vote on the sequester level spending as laid out in the 2011 Budget Control Act; however, there was not support for that proposal, and the vote was never an option.”