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House votes to curb regulators, cut spending

The Republican-controlled House voted to shield greenhouse-gas polluters, coal companies and privately owned colleges from federal regulators on Friday, strengthening the pro-business emphasis of legislation that also would chop $61 billion from government spending.

But as a final vote neared on the sweeping measure, newly elected conservatives suffered a rare setback when a split among rank-and-file Republicans sank a move to cut an additional $22 billion.

"The American people have spoken. They demand that Washington stop its out-of-control spending now, not some time in the future," declared Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the 87 newly elected Republicans who have moved aggressively to attack federal deficits and reduce government's reach.

But for other Republicans, the extra $22 billion was a step too far.

"Rather than make careful decisions on specific program the. amendment hits everything indiscriminately in a heavy-handed way," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and principal author of the broader measure. "We were elected to make choices, not run on automatic pilot."

In a victory for social conservatives, the House voted 240-185 to block federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who proposed the move, said, "It is morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use them to fund organizations that provide and promote abortion."

At the end of a week of sessions stretching well past midnight, the House moved toward a final vote on the $1.2 trillion bill that is needed to keep the government in operation when existing funding authority expires on March 4.

The measure, packed with cuts to hundreds of federal programs and terminations of others, faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama and implacable opposition from majority Democrats in the Senate. As a result, it is unclear how much of it will ever become law.

At the same time, it has spawned an intensifying political struggle over spending, with current funding for federal agencies due to expire in two weeks.

Republicans and Democrats have already accused each other of favoring a government shutdown when funding expires, and the two sides are maneuvering for political advantage in anticipation of talks on a short-term extension that will be needed.

Democratic leaders introduced legislation during the day to extend funding at existing levels until March 31 "to prevent any interruption in vital government services."

That brought a quick retort from Speaker John Boehner. "The only people in this town rooting for a government shutdown are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid," said the Ohio Republican, referring to the Democratic leaders of Congress as he spoke with reporters a few feet away from a crowded House floor.

"There's not one Republican talking about a government shutdown. Our goal is to cut spending."

The flurry of decisions during the day, combined with votes cast earlier in the week, underscored the impact on the House of the 87 freshmen who were elected to their first terms last fall with tea party support.

In the space of a few moments at mid-evening, the House voted to block the EPA from setting limits over levels of pollution runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay and to stop surface mining rules that Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said threatened the loss of thousands of coal industry jobs.

Republicans prevailed, 237-189, on a vote to stop EPA rules issued last year to control fertilizer and other pollutants that help spread algae in Florida waters.

On another front, Republicans voted several times in slightly different ways to ban the use of federal funds to implement the year-old health care law. The House has voted previously to repeal the new law.

The move to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas polluters came from Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who said his congressional district is home to more oil refineries than any other.

"We're in the midst of a massive economic downturn and the last thing we need to do is shoot ourselves in the foot with unnecessary, expensive new regulations that are on business and industry," he said.

But Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said the proposal was the worst of a series of regulation-negating provisions backed by Republicans.

Citing a widespread scientific consensus that greenhouse gases cause climate change, he said, "This amendment bars EPA from acting, from carrying out its responsibilities."

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., backed the move to block the Obama administration from enforcing a proposed regulation setting requirements for schools in order for their students to receive federal loans or grants. The requirements involve the amount of debt students accumulate and their earning potential after graduation.

Kline said the proposed rule had triggered a public outcry, and he labeled it "an outright attack on the private sector" that was costing jobs and would continue to do so.

But critics said the for-profit private schools run up large profit margins while leaving students with unmanageable debts after they graduate. The colleges enroll only about 10-12 percent of students in the country, yet receive 23 percent of all federal loans and grants.

Kline's proposal was approved on a vote of 289-136, and, a short while later, Republicans assured approval of Poe's restriction on the EPA, 249-176.

The votes marked the latest evidence of the anti-regulation bent of the new GOP majority.

On Thursday, the House voted to block regulations governing the emission of mercury from cement plants and to stop the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing proposed regulations opposed by Verizon and other large Internet Service Providers.

Debate over the abortion issue grew intense Thursday night, when Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., read a description of a graphic second-trimester abortion procedure on the House floor.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., responded with an emotional speech disclosing having undergone an abortion as her 17-week pregnancy was failing. "For you to stand on this floor and to suggest as you have that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous," she said.

Under current law, federal funds may not be used for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the GOP proposal would "make it harder to access pap tests, breast exams, routine gynecological examinations, flu vaccinations, smoking cessation services, cholesterol screening, contraceptives and all of the other services that Planned Parenthood provides."

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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