House passes sweeping cuts to domestic programs
The 235-189 vote to send the bill to the Senate was largely along party lines and defied a veto threat from President Barack Obama. It marked the most striking victory to date for the new Republicans elected last year on a promise to attack the deficit and reduce the reach of government. Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.
"The American people have spoken. They demand that Washington stop its out-of-control spending now, not some time in the future," declared freshman Republican congressman Tim Huelskamp.
The $1.2 trillion bill covers every Cabinet agency through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, imposing severe spending cuts aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection, and heating and housing subsidies for the poor.
The measure faces a rough ride in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even before the Republican amendments adopted Thursday, Friday and early Saturday morning pushed the bill further and further to the right on health care and environmental policy. Senate Democrats promise higher spending levels and are poised to defend Obama's health care bill, environmental policies and new efforts to overhaul regulation of the financial services industry.
Changes rammed through the House on Friday and Saturday would shield greenhouse-gas polluters and privately owned colleges from federal regulators, block a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and bar the government from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution, siding with business groups over environmental activists and federal regulators in almost every instance.
The gulf between the combatants ensures that difference on the measure won't be resolved soon, requiring a temporary spending bill when a current stopgap measure expires March 4.
Across four long days of freewheeling debate, Republicans left their conservative stamp in other ways.
They took several swipes at the year-old health care law, including voting for a ban on federal funding for its implementation. At the behest of anti-abortion lawmakers, they called for an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Republicans awarded the Pentagon an increase of less than 2 percent, but domestic agencies would bear slashing cuts of about 12 percent. Such reductions would feel almost twice as deep since they would be spread over the final seven months of the budget year.
Republicans recoiled, however, from some of the most politically difficult cuts to grants to local police and fire departments, special education and economic development.
About the only victory scored by Obama during the week came on a vote Wednesday to cancel $450 million for a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon's next-generation F-35 warplane. It was a top priority of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the measure and Obama has threatened a veto if it reaches his desk, citing sweeping cuts that he says would endanger the economic recovery.
"The bill will destroy 800,000 American jobs," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, citing a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. "It will increase class sizes and take teachers out of the classrooms ... It will jeopardize homeless veterans, make our communities less secure, threaten America's innovation."
The 359-page bill was shaped beginning to end by the first-term Republicans, many of them elected with tea party backing.
They rejected an initial draft advanced by the leadership, saying it did not cut deeply enough.
The revised bill added more reductions, and cut $100 billion from Obama's request for the current year.