House GOP unveils $61B spending cut plan
WASHINGTON – House Republicans called for cuts in hundreds of programs across the face of government Friday night in a $61 billion savings package toughened at the last minute at the demand of tea party-backed conservatives.
From education to job training, the environment and nutrition, few domestic programs were left untouched — and some were eliminated — in the measure, which is expected to reach the floor for a vote next week.
Among the programs targeted for elimination are Americorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In contrast, spending on defense and veterans' programs were protected.
The measure marks an initial down payment by newly empowered Republicans on their promise to rein in federal deficits and reduce the size of government.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called the measure "a historic effort to get our fiscal house in order and restore certainty to the economy. .This legislation will mark the largest spending cut in modern history and will help restore confidence so that people can get back to work."
Democrats harshly criticized the bill within moments of its formal unveiling, signaling the onset of weeks of partisan struggle over spending priorities.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement calling the bill irresponsible, adding that it would "target critical education programs like Head Start, halt innovation and disease research, end construction projects to rebuild America and take cops off the beat."
But first-term Republican conservatives claimed victory after forcing their own leadership to expand the measure after rejecting an earlier draft as too timid.
"$100 billion is $100 billion is $100 billion," said Rep. Tim Scott R-S.C., referring to amount the revised package would cut from President Barack Obama's budget request of a year ago.
That was the amount contained in the Republican "Pledge to America" in last fall's campaign, and when party leaders initially suggested a smaller package of cuts this week, many of the 87-member freshman class who have links to the tea party rebelled.
In fact, even some Republicans acknowledged privately the legislation will cut about $61 billion from current spending on domestic spending.
Some of the largest cuts would be borne by WIC, which provides nutritional support for women and infants, cut by $747 million, and training and employment grants to the states, ticketed for a $1.4 billion reduction.
In addition, Republicans proposed a 43 percent cut in border security fencing and a 53 percent reduction in an account used to fund cleanup of the Great Lakes.
The measure also asserts Republican priorities in several contentious areas.
It prohibits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from terminating plans for a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — a direct challenge to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid dissented quickly, issuing a statement that said, "Any attempt to restart the Yucca Mountain project will not happen on my watch as Senate majority leader."
The Environmental Protection Agency would be banned from regulating greenhouse gases, linked to global warming, from fixed sources such as factories. The District of Columbia could not use federal funds to run a needle-exchange program for drug users.
While a 48-hour revolt by tea party-backed conservatives roiled the party this week, its conclusion could mean an easier path to passage for the spending cut bill when it reaches the House floor.
"The leadership responded to the concerns of those who are far to the right of the middle," said Scott.
The cuts will become part of a spending bill that is needed to keep the government in operation through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. The current funding authority expires on March 4.
Passage in the Republican-controlled House would send the bill to the Senate, where Democrats control a majority and are certain to support more generous funding levels.
Barring a compromise before March 4, the two houses will be under pressure to agree on a short-term bill to keep the federal government operating without interruptions.
Even that could prove difficult, though, and Democrats assert that Republicans will resort to a government shutdown to get their way.
"It is time for the House Republicans to stop with the games and finally rule out a government shutdown once and for all," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Stop being coy about it and take it off the table."
Congressional Republicans were damaged politically in 1995 when a protracted dispute over funding with President Bill Clinton led to a government shutdown.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.