• With: Joe Rago, Kim Strassel, Dan Henninger, James Freeman

    GIGOT: All right, well, keep digging, folks. We've got to follow it since the administration doesn't want to.

    When we come back, a closer look at conservative anger over this week's budget deal. Did the GOP sell out or was it the best bargain they could get?

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    GIGOT: The House passed a bipartisan budget bill Thursday, avoiding another government shutdown fiasco, but raising anger among some conservatives who think the deal is a bad bargain for Republicans and the country.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: It's worse than the status go. The status quo will spend $60 billion less than the budget deal over the next two years. Over 10 years, this deal will add $7 trillion to the deficit. It does not significantly alter our course. We're still on a course for disaster.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. And also Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also joins us.

    So, Dan, is Rand Paul right or is Paul Ryan, the architect or the negotiator of this deal, right when he says it's a small step in the right direction?

    HENNINGER: I think Congressman Ryan has the better of this. It's a small step in the right direction, especially with the fact that they've now got federal workers paying more into their pensions. This kind of corresponds with what Republican governors have been doing in states. It makes it seem as though the Republican at least have a coherent strategy.

    As to Rand Paul, Senator Paul, during the shutdown, which so damaged the Republican brand, was kind of missing in action. Now suddenly, he steps forward at this point -- he's beginning to look like a sailor on a boat that's kind of tacking with the wind, depending on which direction it's going in. I think this whole episode, quite frankly, whether it's Ted Cruz earlier in the shutdown and now this, is damaging everyone in Washington. The public's attitude towards Washington is very negative.

    More and more to my mind, this is creating an opening for a Republican governor out here who is not a part of this Roman Coliseum in Washington.

    GIGOT: No tax increases, James, as Democrats wanted?

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Hey, hey, hey.

    (CROSSTALK)

    FREEMAN: -- higher fees.

    GIGOT: No tax increases. No increase in jobless benefits as Democrats wanted. And some entitlement reform as Democrats didn't want. Now, the cost for that was they increased some near-term spending and broke the budget caps for two years, which is -- which I wish they hadn't done.

    FREEMAN: Yeah.

    GIGOT: But net on net, what do you think?

    FREEMAN: Could have been worse, is maybe the headline. I think Paul Ryan did maybe the best he could, given the problem created for him by so- called national security hawks in the GOP Congress. Basically --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: And don't forget the Appropriations Committee.

    FREEMAN: Yeah. Refusing to acknowledge that there's waste to be cut in the Pentagon budget. And also, I think, extremely short sighted. We're not going to be a military superpower if we're no longer an economic superpower. So you've got to restrain the size of government, the overall cost, and -- I would say, yes, this is a big reform, a big step forward to get Democrats on board an entitlement -- even though it's modest. I think, as a moment, that part of it is helpful. But this really should have been a better deal.

    GIGOT: Kim, were you surprised by the number of Republicans who voted for this? 169 to 62 in the end. That was surprising. They had got -- 162 -- I think Democrats. But that was a big margin for Republicans, considering all of these conservative activists who said they're opposed.

    STRASSEL: Yeah. I think you're seeing a couple of things happen here. One, this is the lingering memory of the shutdown, OK? And the lesson a lot of Republicans learned from that was that when their party is divided and when they decide to have a big fight in public and then there's something like a shutdown as a consequence, bad things happen to the party. And had this deal not happened, had Paul Ryan not done it, for all kinds of reasons, that was where they were headed again. A lot of people didn't do that. That argument was made to them.

    I think, too, what you're seeing as well is a little diminishing of the power of some of these outside groups, which -- you know, John Boehner took a whack at him this week.

    GIGOT: Right.

    STRASSEL: Heritage Action and Freedom Works, who had come out and criticized this Paul Ryan deal before they'd even seen the details of it. And I think there's a growing feeling among some Republicans that these groups seem more interested in highlighting GOP divides, fund-raising off of it, and that they're not always focused on the kind of well being in future politics.

    GIGOT: Dan, what do you think of what this does to Paul Ryan's presidential possibilities, where he was the V.P. candidate the last time, national figure within the party? But was he taking one for the team here in a way to help the party in the House and in Congress maybe retake the Senate but that may end up damaging his presidential prospects?

    HENNINGER: I disagree with that, Paul. I think maybe in terms of presidential prospects, it has increased his stature. And I'll give you one example. Back when Marco Rubio was trying to do immigration reform --

    GIGOT: Right.

    HENNINGER: -- and taking criticism, no question, Paul Ryan would have been supporting and was supporting Rubio on immigration reform.

    GIGOT: Rubio, that's right.

    HENNINGER: Marco Rubio, in the past week, came out and said he cannot vote for this budget reform. And Paul Ryan was asked about that and said, maybe he should read it and that might change his opinion.

    (LAUGHTER)

    But I think that says something at the margin about the political principles of the two guys and that Ryan is at least being consistent and is making a consistent argument. I think at the presidential level, that kind of leadership is, in fact, what the public is looking for.

    GIGOT: James what do you make of this split between Boehner and the conservative groups? It can't help with the Republican Party if they go into an election year divided.

    FREEMAN: No, but I think you can understand, in this case, there are times where the outside groups are not helpful, maybe many times.