Published February 19, 2011
After four days of marathon, near-round-the-clock sessions, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bill early Saturday to runt he federal government through the fall and slash $61 billion in spending.
The 235-189 vote to send the bill to the Senate was largely along party lines and defied a veto threat from President 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 sweeping $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, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and Planned Parenthood.
The bill also prohibits the funding of the new health care reform law.
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.
But if a stopgap bill isn't also passed by the Senate and signed by Obama, the government could shut down after March 4, when the current stopgap bill expires.
Rep. Denny Rehberg’s amendment defunding the health care law, which was passed 239-187 during Friday’s session, would starve the overhaul of any federal funds for the rest of fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. The GOP has virtually no chance of killing the law because of support for the program from Obama and the Democratic-run Senate, but House Republicans have been trying relentlessly to chip away at it.
"Today's vote is the latest victory for the American public and our country in preventing the disastrous Obamacare law from forever damaging our health care system and hampering job creation," Rehberg said in a written statement. "Our efforts -- and my amendment -- will save billions of wasted funding while opening the door for true health care reform that reduces costs and improve access."
House Democrats warned that defunding the bill would lead to repeal and an increase in the deficit and chided Republicans for attempting to gut the legislation through an amendment without hearings on the issue.
“It may pass on this floor, which is driving itself into irrelevancy with this amendment process,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But Pelosi insisted that Democrats would continue to fight efforts to dismantle the law.
Republicans awarded the Pentagon a funding 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.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and the Associated Press contributed to this report.