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How Republicans avoided a budget revolt – for a day, anyway

Republican deficit hawks were prepared to revolt against the House leadership's budget plans, but an inventive maneuver saved the day. 

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House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington last week. He was instrumental in finding a budget compromise among Republicans.

Cliff Owen/AP/File

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Republicans were rescued from embarrassing House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio (again) thanks to a little listening and a parliamentary maneuver known as “Queen of the Hill.”

Just last week, it was widely speculated that Republicans who wanted steep budget cuts would deal Speaker Boehner a defeat when the GOP budget resolution came up for a vote Wednesday. The speaker would again be shown as unable to tame his unruly caucus.

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But in the end, House Republicans passed a budget blueprint 228 to 199. No Democrats voted for the plan, which would balance the budget within 10 years by repealing the Affordable Care Act and making deep cuts in social welfare spending.

So why didn't hardliners revolt?

In part, they may have learned from their failed attempt last month to put restrictions on the president's immigration executive action. Both the House and Senate passed a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without restrictions.

After this defeat, a newly formed group of conservatives known as the Freedom Caucus met to come up with a plan of attack for the budget, according to Politico.

Eventually, they proposed to House and Budget Committee leaders that votes be allowed on more than one GOP budget plan. The one with the most votes is the one that's adopted. In House parlance, that's called a "Queen of the Hill" process.

The beauty of that solution, Freedom Caucus member Rep. John Fleming (R) of Louisiana told reporters Wednesday, is that it is transparent, and "we all get to vote for the budget we want." He was impressed with the receptivity of leadership to the caucus's views.

The choices allowed the most fiscally conservative Republicans to back the most stringent budget plan (theirs would trim the deficit by $7.1 trillion over six years).

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It also allowed Republicans to back a plan that would reduce the deficit by $5.5 trillion in a decade, but increase the military’s war account by $94 billion, some of which was offset.

Defense hawks could back a third plan that topped up the war account by another $2 billion, without offsets. That’s the plan that was backed by leadership and which eventually was adopted.

With this deal, all Republicans could declare victory. At least for a day.

Much harder will be agreeing on actual spending. Wednesday's GOP budget resolution does not have the force of law. It is simply a vision statement. Translating that vision into spending bills that must pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the president is another matter.