WASHINGTON – The House, in a bipartisan vote, has passed a yearlong government funding measure cutting $38 billion from the budget and closing out sometimes quarrelsome negotiations between the Obama administration and Republicans dominating the House.
The measure passed Thursday by a 260-167 vote in which dozens of Democrats made up for defections from tea party-backed GOP conservatives. The Senate was poised to vote later in the day and the president has said he'll sign it into law.
The bill cuts community health programs, grants for state and local police departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and community development grants, a favorite program with mayors of both political parties
The Pentagon would get a slight budget boost, as would veterans programs.
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While acknowledging a $38 billion package of spending cuts is far from perfect, House Speaker John Boehner Thursday predicted the measure would clear the House with a bipartisan majority Thursday in a first step of a longer Republican campaign to rein in federal deficits.
Boehner, R-Ohio, offered no estimate on how many members of the Republican rank and file would vote for the bill, but the Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said members of her party would "help put it over the top."
The legislation is a product of negotiations involving Boehner, President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Its savings are considerably less than the $60 billion-plus in cuts that Republicans muscled through the House in February.
"It stops the bleeding. It halts the spending binge and starts us moving us back in the right direction," Boehner said. "Does it cut enough? No. Do I wish it cut more? Absolutely."
The House set an early afternoon vote, and the Senate was standing by to complete work on the bill later in the day and send it to Obama for his signature.
Some Republicans have expressed concern since learning that the bill would cut less than $1 billion from the deficit for the current budget year ending Sept. 30. Boehner preferred to focus on the long-term implications of the measure — and a vote tomorrow on a 10-year GOP budget blueprint that promises $6.2 trillion in saving below Obama's February budget.
"If we pass this bill, Washington will spend $315 billion less than it's currently on track to spend over the next ten years," Boehner said of Thursday's vote. "It's that simple," adding that the broader GOP budget is "the plan that will take us where we truly need to go."
The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland., announced he would support the measure, as did top Appropriations Committee Democrat Norm Dicks of Washington. But Pelosi is expected, along with a broad swath of liberals, to oppose the measure.
The long-overdue shorter-term measure would fund the day-to-day budgets of federal agencies through September. Later in the day, Republicans dominating the House will launch debate on a 2012-and-beyond plan that promises to cut the long-term budget blueprint Obama laid out in February by more than $6 trillion.
The 2011 spending measure combines more than $38 billion in cuts to domestic accounts with changes to benefit programs, like children's health care, that Congress' own economists say are illusory.
Thursday's measure is a compromise between Obama, Boehner and Reid. As such, it's a split-the-differences agreement that considerably smooths a much more stringent version that passed the House in February.
The bill cuts $600 million from community health programs, $414 million from grants for state and local police departments, and $1.6 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. Community development block grants, a favorite with mayors of both political parties, take a $950 million cut. And construction and repair projects for federal buildings would absorb an almost $1 billion cut.
"Never before has any Congress made dramatic cuts such as those that are in this final bill. The near $40 billion reduction in non-defense spending is tens of billions larger than any other cut in history," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
Obama, however, was able to ease cuts to favored programs like medical research, family planning programs and education, while largely ridding the bill of conservative policy initiatives to block last year's health care law and new environmental regulations.
But the measure would have little direct impact on the deficit through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, since about $8 billion in immediate domestic program cuts are more than outweighed by increases for the Pentagon and ongoing war costs.
Later Thursday, the GOP-dominated House will kick off debate on its long-term budget plan, a measure promising stiff cuts to domestic agency budgets that total $1.8 trillion over 10 years. The GOP measure, a non-binding blueprint that sets a theoretical framework for future legislation, would also sharply cut Medicaid and transform it into a block grant program run by the states. It doesn't touch Social Security, however, or immediately cut Medicare.
But the GOP plan calls for transforming Medicare in the future by replacing the current system, in which the government directly pays doctor and hospital bills, into a voucher-like program in which future retirees purchase private insurance plans. People 55 and over would stay in the current system but younger people would receive the insurance subsidies, which economists say would gradually lose value over time because they wouldn't keep up with inflating costs of medical care.
Obama and Democrats say the GOP Medicare plan, devised by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would "end Medicare as we know it."
On Wednesday, Obama said spending cuts and higher taxes alike must be part of any deficit-reduction plan, including an end to Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
Obama's speech was salted with calls for bipartisanship, but it also bristled with attacks on Republicans.
"What we got was a speech that was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate and hopelessly inadequate to addressing our country's pressing fiscal challenges," Ryan said. "What we heard today was not fiscal leadership from our commander in chief. What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner in chief."
Obama's plan relied on some of the same deficit-reduction measures proposed in December by a bipartisan fiscal commission he appointed. The president met Thursday at the White House with the co-chairmen of the commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson.
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