House Passes Spending Bill, but Not Happily

For Immediate Release:

March 16, 2011

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Carl Hulse
NY Times

The House gave grudging approval on Tuesday to a plan to finance the federal government for three more weeks, even as dozens of Republicans broke with their leadership and opposed the stopgap legislation.

Congressional leaders said the measure, which imposes $6 billion in new spending cuts, would avert a government shutdown while giving Republicans and Democrats until April 8 to conclude a more sweeping budget deal to finance the government through Sept. 30.

“Our goal is to cut spending and keep the government open and meet our commitment to the American people to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington,” Speaker John A. Boehner said.

Though the legislation had the strong support of Mr. Boehner and his top lieutenants, more than 50 members of the Republican rank-and-file opposed it, including 21 of the 87 Republican freshmen. The opponents said they were ready to force a showdown over spending cuts and accused Democrats of stalling a final resolution.

“While I believe reasonable minds can differ,” said Representative Trey Gowdy, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, “I think my constituents want a quicker pace.”

Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, put it bluntly: “It is time to pick a fight.”

On the final vote of 271 to 158, 186 Republicans and 85 Democrats supported the budget extension; 54 Republicans and 104 Democrats opposed it.

The defections suggest that the House leadership could have difficulty selling a final budget compromise to its membership if the plan dips very far below the $61 billion in cuts approved by the House and does not contain policy restrictions on abortion, the new health care law and environmental rules that many House Republicans favor.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said the number of Republicans who balked at the measure should lead top Republicans to seek a final compromise they can pass with votes from both Republicans and Democrats rather than try to produce the votes from their own ranks.

“We now see clearly that the problem that we have is the Republican majority does not agree with itself,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Republicans and Democrats have so far held halting negotiations on the final level of spending cuts with little obvious progress, but talks have been occurring behind the scenes between House and Senate leaders.

At the White House, the spokesman, Jay Carney, said, “The short-term funding bill passed in the House of Representatives today gives Congress some breathing room to find consensus on a long-term measure that funds the government through the end of the fiscal year.”

But Mr. Carney added that President Obama had made clear that “with the wide range of issues facing our nation, we cannot keep funding the government in two- or three-week increments.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle joined the president in calling for the new stopgap measure to be the last of the temporary budget bills. Once Congress finishes this fight, it must immediately begin considering a budget and spending bills for the 2012 fiscal year. Lawmakers also face a serious clash over the administration’s request to increase the federal debt limit.

“Let’s pass this, move ahead and get this thing done,” Representative Ander Crenshaw, Republican of Florida, said.

Republican supporters of the legislation urged their colleagues to approve one last interim measure. They noted that the bill cuts $6 billion in current spending on top of $4 billion in reductions imposed in the previous two-week budget bill that expires Friday.

“We will have cut over $10 billion in the span of two weeks,” Representative Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said. “That sets a record. That has never been done before in this body.”

“Take ‘yes’ for an answer,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. “Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Senate leaders predicted that the Senate would approve the measure later this week despite mounting conservative resistance in that chamber as well.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who could face a Republican challenge for re-election next year, announced on Tuesday that he would oppose the bill. “Enough is enough,” Mr. Hatch said. “We need a long-term plan to force our government to live within its means, just like Utah families do.”

The short-term measure saves $3.5 billion by eliminating 25 programs, including some the Obama administration had already proposed to end on its own. More than $2 billion is saved by reclaiming money set aside for local projects that will not be financed because of the Congressional ban on earmarks.

Republicans and Democrats traded blame for which side was most responsible for the muddled fiscal state of affairs. Republicans noted repeatedly that they inherited the problem from Democrats who did not pass a budget or the required spending bills last year; Democrats said Republicans were pushing unacceptable cuts.

Both sides agreed it was a mess.

“It’s a terrible way to do business,” said Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia.