WASHINGTON – Republicans in the House of Representatives have taken the wraps off a plan for deep cuts in federal spending that sets up a showdown with President Barack Obama's Democrats. Prime targets of the budget slashing include the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The proposal would impose immediate cuts of roughly 25 percent on the government's non-military operations, from transportation to
scientific research. Hundreds of programs across the face of government would be cut in a $61 billion package of spending cuts toughened at the last minute at the demand of tea party-backed lawmakers.
Few domestic programs were left untouched — and some were eliminated — in the measure, which is expected to reach the floor for a vote next week.
The move would cut current spending in hundreds of federal programs by about $61 billion, resulting in levels in effect in 2008.
By Republican reckoning, the new measure would reduce spending by $100 billion below Obama's request for the current fiscal year, a number they had promised to meet in the "Pledge to America," their manifesto in the 2010 campaign. The actual cuts from current rates are less because the $100 billion promise assumes Obama budget increases that were never enacted.
"$100 billion is $100 billion is $100 billion," said Rep. Tim Scott R-S.C., referring to amount the revised package would cut from Obama's budget request of a year ago.
"We will meet our pledge to America," House Speaker John Boehner said, adding that the upcoming legislation will "send a signal that we're serious about cutting spending here in Washington."
Republicans, who control the House, said it would be the largest spending cut on record. But the proposal has virtually no chance of becoming law because Obama and the Democrats who control the Senate are certain to oppose it.
Cuts of this magnitude would force the government to lay off tens of thousands of workers at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9 percent, analysts say.
The plan also impedes the Obama administration's ability to move forward with some of its top priorities, from high-speed rail to addressing global warming.
“These were hard decisions, and I know many people will not be happy with everything we’ve proposed in this package,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. “That’s understandable and not unexpected, but I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path.”
Democrats harshly criticized the bill within moments of its formal unveiling, signaling the onset of weeks of partisan struggle over spending priorities.
"If we're trying to improve the economy and get people back to work, this will be counterproductive," said Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
But first-term Republican conservatives claimed victory after forcing their own leadership to expand a package of spending cuts headed for debate on the House floor next week.
Even as Congress struggles to set funding for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Washington is gearing up for another budget battle. Obama is set to release his budget proposal on Monday for the next fiscal year.
The Republican proposal sets up a showdown in the coming weeks in Congress as the House and the Senate must agree on funding levels to keep the federal government operating when current funding expires on March 4.
Lawmakers from both parties said they likely would seek a temporary extension beyond that date to buy more negotiating time. But tea party-aligned conservatives who helped sweep the Republicans into power in the House in November's congressional elections may run out of patience, a senior Republican said.
"At some point in time, some people are going to reject extending things," Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees spending for environmental and public lands programs, told reporters.
The 359-page spending plan represents the second attempt by Simpson and other senior House Republicans to satisfy the demands of the party's more conservative members, many of whom were elected on a promise to cut domestic spending programs back to their levels before Obama took office in 2009.
An earlier plan had sought $40 billion in immediate cuts in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Conservatives said that did not live up to their election promises.
"You have to meet the expectations that you put out there and if you can exceed it," said Rep. Allen West, one of the House's 87 newly elected Republicans.
Under the plan, Pentagon spending would increase by $8 billion in the current fiscal year.
The EPA would face an immediate budget cut of 55 percent and would be prohibited from regulating carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases.
The GOP's plan also recommends ending federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB receives about $531 million annually from the federal government and provides support for public radio and TV stations across the United States.
Aid to Egypt would remain unchanged on the condition that it undertake economic and democratic reforms.
Cuts to food-safety programs mean that slaughterhouses left without required federal inspectors would have to close down for six to nine weeks, according to Democrats.
The Republican plan would block funding for White House officials overseeing efforts to combat climate change and implement Obama's healthcare overhaul law.
It also would block $2 billion left unspent from the president's 2009 economic stimulus package and would eliminate Obama's high-speed passenger rail effort.
The cuts would do little to close a U.S. budget deficit that is projected to hit a record $1.5 trillion this year, as the targeted programs account for roughly 13 percent of the government's $3.7 trillion budget.
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