US House passes sweeping cuts to domestic programsWritten by Associated Press | | email@example.com
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed sweeping legislation early Feb. 19 to cut $61 billion from hundreds of federal programs and shelter coal companies, oil refiners and farmers from new government regulations.
By a 235-189 vote, largely along party lines, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where it faces longer odds, and defied a veto threat from President Barack Obama.
Passage of the legislation was the most striking victory to date for the 87 freshman Republicans elected last November on a promise to attack the deficit and reduce the reach of government. Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.
The differences betwen the two parties are wide and won’t be resolved soon. That confronts lawmakers with the need for a temporary spending bill when the current one expires March 4.
Democrats say House Speaker John Boehner’s insistence that any temporary measure carry deep spending cuts amounts to an ultimatum that could threaten a government shutdown. Such an impasse played to the advantage of Democratic President Bill Clinton in his battles with Republicans in 1995-1996.
The Obama administration upped the ante on Friday, warning that workers who distribute Social Security benefits for retirees might face furloughs if the Republican cuts go through.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, attending a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in Paris, expressed hope that over the long term, Democrats and Republicans would find a way to cut spending and reduce long-term deficits. But he said the House-passed measure “would undermine and damage our capacity to create jobs and expand the economy.”
The $1.2 trillion bill covers every Cabinet agency through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, imposing severe spending cuts aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection, and heating and housing subsidies for the poor.
“The American people have spoken. They demand that Washington stop its out-of-control spending now, not some time in the future,” declared freshman Republican congressman Tim Huelskamp.
The measure already faced a rough ride in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even before the Republican amendments adopted Thursday, Friday and early Saturday morning pushed the bill further and further to the right on health care and environmental policy. Senate Democrats promise higher spending levels and are poised to defend Obama’s health care bill, environmental policies and new efforts to overhaul regulation of the financial services industry.
Changes rammed through the House on Friday and Saturday would shield greenhouse-gas polluters and privately owned colleges from federal regulators, block a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and bar the government from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution, siding with business groups over environmental activists and federal regulators in almost every instance.
Across four long days of freewheeling debate, Republicans left their conservative stamp in other ways.
They took several swipes at the year-old health care reform law, including voting for a ban on federal funding for its implementation. At the behest of anti-abortion lawmakers, they called for an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception and other birth control services.
The Environmental Protection Agency took hits from Republicans eager to defend business and industry from agency rules they say threaten job creation and the economy. The EPA’s budget was slashed by almost one-third, and then its regulatory powers were handcuffed in a series of votes.
Republicans awarded the Pentagon an increase of less than 2 percent, but domestic agencies would bear slashing cuts of about 12 percent. Such reductions would feel almost twice as deep since they would be spread over the final seven months of the budget year.
EPA foes prevailed in halting the agency from using its powers to try to curb greenhouse gases. The EPA has taken steps to regulate global warming pollution from vehicles and the largest factories and industrial plants and is expected to soon roll out rules that target refineries and power plants.
Republicans recoiled, however, from some of the most politically difficult cuts to grants to local police and fire departments, special education and economic development.
About the only victory scored by Obama during the week came on a vote Wednesday to cancel $450 million for a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon’s next-generation F-35 warplane, which in part would be built at a factory in Speaker Boehner’s Ohio district. Its cancellation was a top priority of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and passed with the votes of many Republican conservatives who opposed the $3 billion program.
Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the measure and Obama has threatened a veto if it reaches his desk, citing sweeping cuts that he says would endanger the fragile economic recovery.
“The bill will destroy 800,000 American jobs,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, citing a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “It will increase class sizes and take teachers out of the classrooms … It will jeopardize homeless veterans, make our communities less secure, threaten America’s innovation.”
The 359-page bill was shaped beginning to end by the first-term Republicans, many of them elected with backing from the ultraconservative tea party movement.
They rejected an initial draft advanced by the leadership, saying it did not cut deeply enough.
The revised bill added more reductions, and cut $100 billion from Obama’s request for the current year.