Fragile US budget deal under fire from both Republicans and Democrats

Democrats seek to negotiate further deal on unemployment benefits while GOP fends off attacks from conservative groups

A fragile deal to settle the US federal budget for two years came under pressure from both left and right on Wednesday as Democrats sought to negotiate a further deal on unemployment benefits and Republicans fended off attacks from conservative pressure groups.

In an unusually angry outburst, House speaker John Boehner turned on rightwing campaign groups such as the Heritage Foundation, claiming they were criticising the compromise deal before they even knew what was in it. "They're using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous," he told reporters outside a meeting of Republican leaders in Congress.

More widespread opposition was emerging among Democrats, furious that the $1tn deal announced by budget negotiators on Tuesday night did not include an agreement to extend benefits for 2.1 million long-term unemployed facing the expiry of a temporary insurance scheme. “It is absolutely unconscionable that we could possibly even consider leaving Washington DC without extending those benefits,” said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi, whose members would need to support the deal for it to pass the House, paid tribute to Democratic negotiators. But she played her cards close to her chest, refusing to confirm whether her party members would vote for the deal in the House later this week. “Our caucus is just finding all this out this morning so they will carefully review the provisions of the proposal and members will make their decision – I don't know where that will come down,” said Pelosi.

“We would have preferred something quite different but we do recognise the value of coming to a decision so we can go forward with some clarity on other legislation that we want to see.”

Bipartisan budget negotiators, led by senator Patty Murray for the Democrats and House Republican Paul Ryan, have said they are confident of retaining support from their respective leaders through the bumpy process of ratifying the deal. “We feel very good about where we are with our parties,” said Ryan on Wednesday.

But Republican leaders will likely have to rely on Pelosi to deliver sufficient Democratic votes to counter any rebellion among their Tea Party wing, which gives the minority leader a rare moment of leverage. So far, Republicans have not ruled out allowing a separate vote to extend long-term unemployment benefits, but signal they too want more concessions from Democrats first.

“When the White House finally called me last Friday about extending unemployment benefits I said that we would clearly consider it as long as it's paid for and there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving again,” Boehner said on Wednesday. “I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards.”

There is also opposition from Republicans in the Senate, who are less able to block the budget's passage, but are under pressure from a renewed wave of primary challenges by Tea Party candidates in the 2014 midterms. “We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good-paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American dream,” said Florida senator Marco Rubio. “Instead, this budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.”

Democratic party leaders face their own pressure from outside Congress, in the shape of union umbrella group AFL-CIO, which opposed the notion of making future federal workers pay higher pension contributions under the deal, and may yet pressure some Democrats to vote against it. Though congressional negotiators may have reached an agreement over the federal budget, it looks like they may not have agreed how they will ensure it gets passed.


Dan Roberts in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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