Congress passes spending bill amid doubts. How much does it actually cut?
The spending deal that averted a government shutdown passed the House and Senate Thursday. But a recent report suggests it cuts only $352 million this year, not $39 billion.
Washington and Boston
The House and Senate Thursday passed the spending bill for fiscal year 2011, averting a government shutdown and putting its seal on the deal agreed to by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid last Friday.Skip to next paragraph
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But no one was running victory laps.
Getting to a bipartisan deal to cut $38.5 billion in spending took more than six months and, at the end, weeks of intense staff negotiation. By Thursday afternoon, however, many House Republicans were wondering if it had all been for nothing.
A report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office suggested that the deal cuts a measly $352 million from spending in the current fiscal year, not $38.5 billion. The main reason for the discrepancy, according to the CBO: Many of the cuts involve money that wasn’t going to be spent this year anyway.
In the end, House Republicans needed votes from Democrats to pass the bill, which passed 260 to 167, with 59 GOP conservatives opposing the bill and 81 Democrats supporting it. The Senate bill passed 81 to 19, with 15 Republicans, three Democrats and one Independent voting in opposition.
Some lawmakers balked at a $2.5 billion “cut” from highway funding that is already blocked from being spent, for example. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma found in the fine print a cut of $4.8 billion in unspent money from a victim’s compensation fund.
“That isn’t even government money,” he said, before voting no on the measure.
Boehner fires back
Speaker Boehner has been forced to hit back at the critics.
“There are some who claim the spending cuts in this bill aren't ‘real,’ that they’re ‘gimmicks.’ I just think it’s total nonsense," Boehner said before a vote on the bill. "A cut is a cut.”
On the floor of the House, he sought to sway skeptical conservatives about the bill’s fiscal impact.
“Every dime in this bill that is cut is a dime that Washington will spend if we leave it on the table," Boehner said. "If you vote ‘no’ on this bill, you're voting to do exactly that, leaving this money on the table to be spent by unelected bureaucrats."
Boehner said that these changes in so-called “budgetary authority,” when fully implemented and repeated year after year, would reduce the deficit by $315 billion over the coming decade – “the largest non-defense discretionary cut in the history of our country."