The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut at least $61 billion in federal spending this year, setting up a budget confrontation with Democrats that threatens a government shutdown.
After more than 90 hours of debate, the House decided 235-189 yesterday to send the measure to the Senate.
Members adopted changes that will make agreement with the Senate difficult, including a ban on funds for President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions. The measure would block regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, for-profit colleges and the Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” Internet rules.
Senate Democrats already have said they won’t accept the cuts in the $1.2 trillion spending bill, and Obama’s budget office has threatened a presidential veto. With Congress out of session in the coming week, lawmakers have little time to work out their differences. Current spending authority ends March 4, and without a new plan the government will shut down.
“Read my lips: We’re going to cut spending,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters last week when announcing he won’t accept a short-term extension without some spending reductions.
“That kind of talk, absent negotiations, really risks a shutdown of the government, which is in no one’s interest,” Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a North Dakota Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Republicans to negotiate a compromise.
“Now that House Republicans have gotten this vote out of their system, I hope they will drop the threats of shutting down the government and work with the Senate on responsible cuts that allow our nation’s economic recovery to continue,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement yesterday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said a shutdown would halt military pay, veterans’ benefits, Social Security checks and government functions such as food-safety inspections. Late Feb. 18 she introduced a temporary spending measure to keep government agencies running through March 31 and buy time for talks.
Republicans “are going to pursue a very strong effort to cut services by refusing to have any tax increases,” George Soros said in an interview with CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program airing today. The billionaire investor said Obama “has lost control of the agenda” on the U.S. economy to the Republicans.
The Republican plan, designed to fulfill campaign promises by the party to slash federal spending, would kill more than 100 programs and cut funding for hundreds more.
It would make reductions in programs affecting education, the environment, health care, energy, science and the arts. The Peace Corps budget would be cut by 20 percent and the maximum Pell college tuition grant would be slashed by 15 percent. The Social Security Administration said it would have to furlough employees.
The House voted on more than 80 amendments among at least 500 offered under Boehner’s promise of an open debate.
An effort to force an additional $22 billion in cuts was defeated, 281-147, amid warnings from both Republicans and Democrats that it would force the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to furlough employees.
“It’s not pleasant to reduce spending -- I get that,” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who sponsored the amendment. “This is what the American people elected 87 freshman Republicans to do.” Ninety-two Republicans and 189 Democrats voted against the proposal.
A number of other Republican amendments were adopted, including one accepted 239-187 that bars the administration from paying any employees to implement its health-care overhaul.
The Education Department amendment, approved 289-136, would block the agency’s “gainful employment” rule that would tie for-profit colleges’ eligibility for federal student aid to their graduates’ income and loan-repayment rates. The administration contends for-profit schools often saddle students with big tuition debts they can’t pay back.
Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan should “put an end to this job-destroying regulation once and for all.”
“Students should be empowered to make an informed decision about their education, and we must ensure they have the information they need without targeting an entire sector of colleges and harming our economy,” Kline said.
The chamber voted 240-185 for Indiana Republican Mike Pence’s amendment to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive-health services.
“Congress has taken a stand for millions of Americans who believe their tax dollars should not be used to subsidize the largest abortion provider in America,” he said.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, called it an “extreme attack on women’s health that threatens the health and lives of millions of women.” She said, “We will continue to fight in the Senate against any effort to deprive women of access to lifesaving health care.”
Planned Parenthood receives $363 million in local, state and federal government funding, about 90 percent of it from the federal government or Medicaid, a joint federal-state program, according to spokesman Tait Sye.