House GOP and Senate Dems face off over 'wildly different' budget bills
House Republicans passed a budget bill on Feb. 19 without a single Democratic vote; now Senate Democrats have their own budget proposal. The Senate is poised to vote on both.
The Senate as early as today plans head-to-head votes on House and Senate spending bills that are more than $50 billion apart on the scale of budget cuts for the balance of the fiscal year -- and even further apart on the rational for the cuts.Skip to next paragraph
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The House bill, passed on Feb. 19 without a single Democratic vote, proposes a historic $61.5 billion in cuts – bringing federal discretionary spending back to pre-stimulus FY 2008 levels. The Senate measure, released on Friday, calls for $6.5 billion in cuts – a level that Senate Democratic leaders say is about as far as the Senate can go.
Citing the $1.65 trillion deficit projected this year, Republicans say that $6 billion barely makes a dent in the scope of the nation’s fiscal woes. “Washington will add more to the debt this week than they want to cut for the entire year – and that’s the farthest their leaders say they’re willing to go,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, in remarks on the floor on Tuesday. “Anything more, they say, is Draconian. I’ll tell you what’s Draconian: Draconian is what happens if Democrats don’t get real about our nation’s fiscal crisis.”
In sharp contrast, Democrats say that too-deep cuts risk derailing the nation’s economic recovery and jeopardizing critical investments for the future. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada called the GOP plan reckless and irresponsible. “Do we want a government that is too limited to have invented the Internet?” said Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts.
“Getting our fiscal house in order can’t just be something we use as cover to do away with things we dislike politically,” said President Obama in his weekly address on Saturday. “And it can’t just be about how much we cut. It’s got to be about how we cut and how we invest.”
“We’ve got to be smart about it. Because if we cut back on the kids I’ve met here and their education, for example, we’d be risking the future of an entire generation of Americans. And there’s nothing responsible about that,” he added.
Since Congress failed to pass a budget or spending bills for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, government has been funded with stop-gap measures. The first, funded through March 4, froze government spending at 2010 levels. The second, funded through March 18, cut $4 billion in discredited congressional earmarks or programs that the White House or Congress had already agreed to phase out. Now, Congress takes up the tough cuts, many involving popular programs with strong lobbies to defend them.
A key flashpoint is spending on education. After supporting a spike in education spending during the Bush years, many House Republicans are questioning whether the investment was worth it. “The federal role in education is a history of underperformance, hype, and false promises,” said Rep. Peter Roscam (R) of Illinois, the chief deputy whip, at a press briefing on Feb. 28. The Senate measure proposes spending $11 billion more than the House for education programs over the next six months.