WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House Saturday approved legislation to cut federal spending deeply through September, a plan that is sure to be stopped by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate.
The Republican-backed bill is a challenge to Obama to show he is serious about closing record budget deficits and sets up the possibility of government shut downs if a compromise is not worked out by March 4, when current funding expires.
On a largely partisan vote of 235-189, House Republicans won passage of the bill to cut current spending by about 14 percent, or more than $61.5 billion from current levels, marking a victory for Tea Party conservatives who were elected in November.
House Speaker John Boehner said the legislation was part of Republican efforts "to liberate our economy from the shackles of out-of-control spending."
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.
Attention now shifts to the Senate, which will write its own version of a government funding bill for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The House spending cuts reflect Republican opposition to federal regulation, which they say hampers business growth, and distaste for taxpayer dollars being used for programs ranging from job training and food aid for the poor to NASA space exploration.
In one of the most significant moves during a week of House debate, Republicans passed amendments stopping the Obama administration from carrying out the landmark healthcare reforms enacted last year.
Republicans campaigned against that law all last year, saying it places burdensome regulations on business and stifles job creation.
Many Democrats defend the healthcare law's expansion of medical coverage to the uninsured and toughening of consumer protections. They pledge to defend the law in the Senate.
But the Supreme Court ultimately is expected to decide the law's constitutionality and its fate.
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 a spending bill for this year that cuts funds, but not as steeply as the House.
"Our nation is in deep fiscal trouble and cutting spending is part of the solution," House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer said. "But we can't cut spending in a reckless, short-sighted way that mortgages our country's economic future."
This spending bill is one of three major fiscal-related measures Congress will work on this year. The others are the fiscal 2012 budget and legislation the Obama administration desperately wants to raise government borrowing authority that is projected to be exhausted in April or May.
The failure of any one of the measures could bring government shutdowns and economic repercussions worldwide. These budget fights also could have a bearing on Obama's re-election efforts next year.
House Republicans, especially new Tea Party-backed conservatives, offered hundreds of amendments in a move to deliver on their small government promises.
As a result, the House-passed bill relaxes some gun controls and blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from starting to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. EPA would not even be allowed to collect data on such pollution, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the agency had the power to protect against this health hazard.
A controversial amendment that would have required the Treasury Department to pay interest on debt, instead of funding government programs, if Washington's borrowing authority runs out, was never brought up for a vote.
The huge bill also blocks proposed Federal Communications Commission rules for Internet providers, takes $747 million out of food assistance to the poor, cuts money for community health centers and would kill the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"We're broke," Boehner said in recent days, justifying the belt-tightening.
Despite that, the Pentagon would be awarded $8 billion more this year in a budget that totals around $700 billion for the year.
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