House to vote on stopgap government spending bill as parties battle over budget cuts

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 12:24 PM

WASHINGTON - Over the opposition of some conservative Republicans whose party dominates the House, the chamber is set Tuesday to pass a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open three weeks past a Friday deadline.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, confidently predicted passage of the measure, which would cut $6 billion from the government's budget as the price for keeping it open three more weeks while the White House and Republican lawmakers seek a longer-term agreement on spending cuts.

The legislation is needed to avert a government shutdown on Saturday, but tea party-backed GOP conservatives say it should include larger immediate spending cuts than the $6 billion cited. They also say the bill should ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood and to strike money to bankroll implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

"By giving liberals in the Senate another three weeks of negotiations, we will only delay a confrontation that must come," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. "I say, 'Let it come now. It's time to take a stand.'"

"This is weak incrementalism in a time when we need bold and visionary leadership from Congress and the president," said Mark Meckler, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. "Kicking the can down the road will not do."

Boehner, however, said most of his members back the short-term measure.

"It's a small down payment on our commitment to the American people that we'd have real fiscal responsibility. Yes, we've got some members that want to do more," Boehner said. But with Democrats expected to provide votes Tuesday afternoon, passage shouldn't be in doubt.

The legislation is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown when a stopgap funding bill expires Friday at midnight.

Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked over legislation funding day-to-day agency operations, which have been mostly frozen at 2010 levels since October of last year.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, which makes up a sizable majority of House Republicans, blasted the bill in a statement Monday.

"With the federal government facing record deficits and a mammoth debt hanging over our economy and our future, we must do more than cut spending in bite-sized pieces," Jordan said in a statement.

At issue are the daily operating budgets of dozens of federal agencies that have been kept open under a series of stopgap bills since the 2011 budget year began last October. Last month, House Republicans passed a $1.2 trillion measure that makes sweeping cuts to the domestic programs - averaging about 13 percent - that Congress funds every year.

The larger GOP measure made cuts of more than $60 billion to those operating budgets. Some senior Republicans warn that it's essential to maintain party unity to win spending reductions.

"If you can't pass this with Republican votes, you need to pass it with Democrat votes," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. "And if you pass it with Democrat votes you'll never get the stuff that some of our people want."

The second- and third-ranking Republicans in the House joined the chorus of frustration Monday, warning that they won't bring many more such stopgap bills to the floor, if any.

"This three-weeks (measure) is not something we're going to continue to always do," said GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

"How are we ever supposed to tackle the grave fiscal challenges before us like the debt ceiling, the debt and the 2012 budget when we just keep punting," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Democrats and Republicans are accusing each other of not showing flexibility, and talks led by Vice President Joe Biden and Boehner have not progressed very far at all. Tea party-backed Republicans are pressuring their leaders to not give ground and they're insisting that any final measure include controversial policy "riders" like a measure backed by anti-abortion lawmakers to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal money.

Such an outcome appears unacceptable to the White House and Senate Democrats, who unanimously opposed the House spending measure in a vote last week.

"In order to avert a shutdown, Speaker Boehner should consider leaving the tea party behind," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

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