Congress Puts Haggling Aside to Pass 2011 Budget Bill

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The Wall Street Journal
By: Janet Hook
April 15, 2011

Measure Is Just Small Step in Addressing Deficit, but Shows Republican Resolve to Slow Growth in Government Spending.

Congress on Thursday ended months of political haggling and passed a bill cutting nearly $40 billion from the 2011 budget, taking only a small bite from the burgeoning federal deficit but hitting a milestone in Republican efforts to slow the growth of government spending.

The House voted 260-167 for the measure. The Senate followed soon after, voting 81-19 for the deal.

The bill, which is the biggest fiscal measure to pass Congress since voters elected a politically divided government last year, was passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers that overrode conservative complaints that it didn't make enough spending cuts. Liberals said the deal cut too much from social programs for the needy.

Welcome to divided government," said House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who negotiated with the White House and Senate Democratic leaders. "This is the best we could get."

The final roll call in the House dramatized the divisions within both parties: 179 Republicans were joined by 81 Democrats in support of the bill. Voting against the bill were 59 Republicans and 108 Democrats.

The bill won support from most of the 87-member freshman class, even though they were elected with a strong mandate to cut spending and have a reputation for defying party leaders. Sixty supported the bill.

The conservative lawmakers willing to defy Mr. Boehner on this vote are likely to remain a focus of attention as Congress takes up other major fiscal issues soon, such as a measure to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

In the Senate, which didn't debate the bill before voting, the measure was opposed by three liberal Democrats, one independent and 15 Republicans, among them the Senate's most conservative lawmakers.

The bill came to a final vote on the 100th day of Republican rule in the House. Mr. Boehner said the bill was an emblem of the party's success in shifting the terms of Washington debate.

"The biggest accomplishment of the first 100 days is that the spending debate in Washington has turned 180 degrees," Mr. Boehner said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) voted against the bill but didn't speak against it. That would have put her at odds with many in her caucus and President Barack Obama, who had supported the compromise. In a Twitter message, she said she voted no because "we can do better" in helping women, students, the District of Columbia and in funding Democratic priorities.

But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), voted for the package, saying it was a responsible compromise in an era of divided government.

Congress was months late in approving a spending bill for fiscal 2011, which started Oct. 1. Lawmakers missed their usual deadlines when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate last year, and agreement on a full-year planned stalled this year, with each party running one chamber of Congress. While the two parties battled over GOP demands for spending cuts, lawmakers approved a series of short-term measures to fund the government.

The compromise sets spending for discretionary programs at about $1.05 trillion. That is $78 billion below the amount Mr. Obama requested for fiscal 2011 and about $39 billion below 2010 levels.

Democrats initially called for a spending freeze in 2011, while the GOP-led House had called for $61 billion in cuts.

Under the final compromise, the Pentagon's budget is $513 billion--$5 billion above 2010 levels, but less than the president and Republicans wanted.

Programs that saw the biggest reductions included the Environmental Protection Agency, which was cut by $1.6 billion, or 16%, and high-speed rail projects, which were cut by $2.9 billion.

Funding to build and repair federal buildings was cut by $1 billion. Funding for community health programs and food aid for poor women and children, both liberal priorities, was also reduced.

"It's shameful, a moral disgrace,'' said Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.). "Budgets are moral documents that reflect who we are as a nation.''

In negotiating the deal, Democrats mitigated cuts in programs that are Obama administration priorities, such as Pell grants, medical research and Head Start. Republicans dropped a set of measures that would have blocked funding for the new health-care law and funding for Planned Parenthood of America.

But in return, Republicans won an agreement that both proposed funding bans would be considered as separate votes in the House and Senate. The House passed the health-care funding ban and the Planned Parenthood ban, voting largely along party lines, but neither measure passed the Senate. Five centrist Republican senators crossed party lines to join Democrats in opposing the ban on Planned Parenthood funding.

Write to Janet Hook at janet.hook@wsj.com

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on April 15, 2011 3:37 PM.

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