Posted: 4:54 am Saturday, February 19th, 2011
By Jamie Dupree
After four straight days of debate that took them past midnight each night, lawmakers in the House voted just before 5 am on Saturday morning to approve a temporary budget for the federal government, making close to $61.5 billion in cutbacks.
“We have a mandate from the American people to cut spending,” said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL).
“Washington does not have a revenue problem,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). “Washington has a very serious spending problem.”
Democrats blasted the cutbacks, led by their House Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“The bill will destroy 800,000 jobs,” Pelosi said at a news conference with fellow Democrats, who railed against the variety of cuts endorsed by Republicans, as well as a littany of policy riders, which attacked everything from EPA pollution rules to the Obama health law.
The GOP included ten different riders on the health law,
ranging from a ban on money being used by the IRS to enforce the
individual mandate to a ban on paying the salaries of officials who
promulgate regulations about the new federal health reforms.
“It’s time not only to de-fund this, but to repeal this measure,” Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) argued, as the GOP slapped a vareity of limits on federal funding, mainly to prevent it from being used to implement the new health law.
Republicans took one more whack at the health law after 4 am, when the House approved an amendment that blocked money for the office that has issued over 900 waivers to one provision of the new health law.
Republicans noted bitterly that office was never authorized in the health law, but was suddenly created by the Health and Human Services Department after the law’s approval.
As for the budget cuts in this bill, Republicans persisted in calling this a cut of over $100 billion – but that figure is misleading, as it compares the bill’s spending levels to President Obama’s budget from last year, which was never enacted by the Congress.
While Republicans celebrated this package of cuts as they left the Capitol before sunrise, the future of the plan is in doubt, as it faces both a veto threat by the President and stern opposition among Democrats in the Senate.
With the House and Senate out next week, another short term extension will likely be needed of the current federal budget to avoid a government shutdown on March 4.
Democrats late on Friday offered a plan to keep the government running through the end of March; Republicans seem likely to accept something shorter than that, as they demand actual cuts, not just an extension of the current funding levels for various government agencies.
One final note about the level of cuts – despite a lot of talk by Republicans, they only added $622 million in cuts during four days of debate, as amendments for deeper cuts were defeated repeatedly by the House.
For example, a plan for $22 billion in savings from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) went down to easy defeat, as all Democrats were joined by 92 Republicans in voting ‘No.’
That debate got a little spicy, as senior members of the House Appropriations Committee blasted the plan, with Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) belittling across-the-board cuts as the work of “lazy” lawmakers – an observation that brought a quick rebuke from Blackburn on the floor.
Of the 29 Republicans on the Appropriations panel, 22 of them voted against the Jordan-Blackburn cuts, a reminder that the Appropriations members are on a committee charged with spending money, not cutting budgets.
The seven GOP members of that committee who voted for the cuts were Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) and Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH).
If you look up where those seven lawmakers stand on the seniority roster on the Appropriations Committee, you will see that most of them are at or near the bottom.
Ironically, the largest budget cut approved this past week was one that had the support of the White House – but was opposed by Speaker John Boehner – which scrapped a second engine for the F-35 jet fighter.
That $450 million cut accounted for almost two-thirds of the savings added on by lawmakers during floor debate.
It fell far short of what many more conservative lawmakers had envisioned, as many had predicted that the open amendment process on the House floor might result in billions of additional budget cuts.
But as I have said for years about the Congress, talking about budget cuts is one thing – actually voting for them is another.