By Paul Kane and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 12:00 AM
As their leaders announced tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts, most House Republicans united Friday behind a plan that would dramatically reshape the federal government, setting the stage for a showdown with Senate Democrats next month.
Republicans, who control the House, yielded to calls from their conservative wing and roughly doubled the size of spending cuts to be considered next week as part of a resolution to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011.
They offered a real cut in spending of almost $61 billion. But, more important to conservatives, the reductions amount to $100 billion less than President Obama's 2011 budget called for. The budget was never enacted.
Republicans from moderate districts privately expressed concern about the steep cuts, but conservatives cheered the additional trims as an important political objective - meeting a campaign pledge they made to grass-roots activists who propelled the party to a historic 63-seat gain in November.
"It's not about demands; it's about us standing up on some principles and letting [people] know that we support them," said Rep. Allen B. West (Fla.), an outspoken member of the new freshman class. West will give the keynote speech Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Committee's conference.
The package of spending cuts is the largest since just after World War II, and it would reduce some of the most critical government services, such as food safety and research at the National Institutes of Health.
Leaving few sacred cows, Republicans went after some of their own favored programs - border security and immigration enforcement would be cut by $600 million, compared with fiscal 2010 levels - while also gutting projects favored by liberals: $1 billion less for community health centers, a key partner in the implementation of Obama's health-care law, and $10 million less in climate-change grants to local governments.
The legislation would eliminate more than $121 million in funding inside the White House, including money for the so-called health-care czar and climate-change czar. And it would slash the Environmental Protection Agency's annual budget by almost 30 percent.
Republicans proposed earlier this week to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and AmeriCorps.
One of the few budget lines that would receive more funding to Israel and Pakistan, up to a combined $4 billion for the fiscal year.
The District of Columbia would be particularly hard-hit under the plan, with almost $240 million in proposed cuts. Two-thirds of the reductions would be to the Metro system, while others would affect local courts ($25 million), school improvement funding ($15.4 million) and the water and sewer authority ($10 million). A housing program for veterans in the District would be reduced by $7 million.
The House expects to begin debate on the bill Tuesday and to set up a final vote by the end of the week.
The stopgap measure that funds government operations, mostly at 2010 levels, will expire March 4, and the GOP hopes to use the spending bill as its first chance to extract serious cuts from the Obama White House. But senior members of theHouse Appropriations Committee, which crafted the new plan, are concerned that the level of cuts could threaten any bipartisan deal with the Democratic-controlled Senate. Some Democrats there had signaled interest, amid record federal deficits, in smaller cuts than the House Republicans are seeking.
The Senate is not expected to take up its version of the federal spending bill until the first week of March, setting up a game of brinkmanship that, according to Democrats, could lead to a government shutdown.
In a sign of their message for the weeks ahead, Senate Democrats began to sharply criticize the proposed cuts as reckless, endangering both the economy and local governments that already face budget troubles.
In a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) criticized the GOP for proposing to cut programs that help hire more police officers. The end result is that our streets will be less safe and our nation will be less secure," wrote Casey, who is up for reelection in 2012.
After a rough week of private huddles on the spending proposal and public missteps on other legislative matters, Republican leaders were guardedly optimistic heading into what will be the most important week of their nascent majority.
"I feel better about next week than I did two weeks ago," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the leader tasked with counting votes, said Friday.
House Republicans have vowed that the spending plan will be a freewheeling process in which all sides will get to offer many amendments, the first so-called open rule in several years. This creates the possibility of Democrats offering some amendments designed to extract political damage from freshman Republicans, making them cast votes that can be turned into campaign ads. But it also creates the possibility of a bidding war among conservative Republicans who will want to cut even more spending.
"I want $100 billion to be the floor and for us to make sure that we work from there up, deeper," said Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.), a leader among the freshman Republicans.