House GOP spares no pet projects in trimming budget

Jolted to action by deficit-conscious newcomers, the Republican-controlled House passed sweeping legislation early Saturday to cut $61 billion from hundreds of federal programs. (Feb 19)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 12:04 AM

Everyone knew Republicans would try to defund President Obama's signature health-care overhaul. They've made that clear since taking over the House majority. And it was no surprise that they would strip federal money from NPR and Planned Parenthood. That's been on the to-do list.

But cutting funds for border security and disaster first responders? New military equipment? Farm assistance programs?

In a mammoth spending bill that ended up being about principle more than achievable cuts, the tea-party-charged House Republicans began to define who they are and what kind of government they value.

The GOP plan to fund the government through September is an assault on bedrock Democratic priorities. It imposes substantial spending cuts that would alter the role of government in nearly every area of society - from education and human services to transportation projects, foreign humanitarian aid and medical research. Gone, too, are an array of federal environmental regulations and consumer-product safety measures that private industry has long opposed.

Yet in last week's feverish scramble to shrink government, House Republicans also ran the budgetary buzz saw through costly defense and homeland security programs that their party had historically protected. They left no sacred cows.

"We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed," Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

The $1.2 trillion bill, which includes historic cuts totaling more than $61 billion, passed the House on Saturday and now careens toward an uncertain future in the Senate. On Sunday, the Democrats who control the Senate denounced the plan as draconian and warned of a possible government shutdown if a compromise is not reached with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) before existing government funding expires March 4.

In making deep cuts to programs historically supported by their party, House Republicans sought to establish credibility on the one issue they think matters most: cutting the size of government. But they also left themselves open to criticism from their constituents, especially the independent voters who propelled them into the majority last fall, who may be alarmed by the breadth and impact of the cuts.

House Republicans also gave up an opportunity for bipartisanship. The bill passed a divided House at 4:40 a.m. Saturday; after five days of debate, not one Democrat supported it. By eliminating dozens of government programs, Republicans drove away those Democrats most inclined to vote with them - moderate Blue Dogs. The result harked back to Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, which passed a bitterly divided Congress two years earlier, almost to the day.

No 'rubber-stamping'

"I don't think the Senate will pass this cut," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the Budget Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We will have to negotiate. Look, we're not looking for a government shutdown. But at the same time, we're also not looking at rubber-stamping these really high, elevated spending levels that Congress blew through the joint two years ago."

With both chambers in recess until the week of Feb. 28, Senate Democrats are mounting a public relations blitz this week highlighting specific cuts in the House bill that may be unpopular with the public, such as funding for cancer research. Democrats are also seizing on some line-item cuts to paint Republicans as "schizophrenic" in their "indiscriminate budget cutting," a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

For instance, the bill would cut at least $272 million in border security and immigration enforcement, including fencing and surveillance technology. A Democratic analysis shows this would scale back the number of agents patrolling the Mexican border from 21,370 to 20,500.

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