The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Thursday was poised to approve deep spending cuts for this year, setting the stage for a battle with the Democratic-run Senate that could lead to a government shutdown.
The House debated the spending measure, which cuts some $61.5 billion from current levels, well into the night Thursday. The House was expected to vote on passage of the bill on Friday, sending it to the Senate.
President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate are likely to reject many of the cuts, which are being pushed by Republicans associated with the conservative Tea Party movement who were elected in November.
The two sides have until March 4 to cut a deal. That's when a temporary funding measure expires. Failure to reach agreement means lawmakers will either have to pass another stopgap spending bill or allow the government to shut down -- something leaders from both parties claim they want to avoid.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said on Thursday the House would not consider another stopgap measure without spending cuts from current levels. The legislation would fund the government through September when the current fiscal year ends.
"When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips: We are going to cut spending," Boehner said.
Obama has outlined his own plan for less severe spending cuts in 2012, and has warned that tightening the belt too much too soon could harm the slow economic recovery.
The House considered a number of amendments and approved a Republican-backed measure overturning proposed rules barring Internet service providers from blocking legal content.
The House debated into the night on a measure that would bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides a number of health services for women, including abortion.
The House also voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing rules to limit mercury and other toxic emissions from cement plants.
Before it completed the bill, the House was also expected to consider an amendment to block funding for Obama's healthcare overhaul, a measure certain to be rejected by the Senate, which has already voted against a Republican bid to repeal the year-old law.
Conservative Republicans are pushing an amendment to give the Treasury Department the ability to avoid a debt default if U.S. borrowing authority runs out, highlighting possible dire consequences of political gridlock over government spending.
The proposal has been described by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as "unworkable" and opponents in the House might use a procedural maneuver to kill the measure.
Congress must vote sometime in the next several weeks to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling so the government can continue to pay its bills and creditors, which include China and other foreign countries.
The bill also includes spending cuts for the Social Security Administration that Democrats say will slow processing for retirement, survivor and disability claims. The agency said it may be forced to temporarily lay off workers and sent a notice of possible furloughs to the employees' union on Thursday night.
Democrats say they also want to begin shrinking a deficit that is projected to be around $1.65 trillion this year, equivalent to 10.9 percent of the economy. As a result, Democratic senators in coming weeks are likely to write their version of a spending bill for this year that cuts funds, but not as steeply as the House. (Reporting by Richard Cowan and Donna Smith; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)
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