House descends into federal budget-cutting chaos, just as planned

House amendments to cut the federal budget kept coming Friday, with Senate Democrats and the White House steeling for a fight. But Republicans say it's 'the House working its will.'

Alex Brandon/AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio takes part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday.

The House's seemingly chaotic bid to cut tens of billions of dollars from the federal budget continued Friday as lawmakers sought to bring the process to a close – though it remains unclear when, exactly that might be.

Friday's developments followed the general theme of this week's budget-cutting frenzy: House Republicans offering amendments with the dual purpose of trimming the deficit and attacking priorities of the Obama administration. Some of the amendments targeted Obama's health-care reforms, enforcement of environmental laws, and implementation of new Wall Street regulations.

But among the scores of votes, some also splintered in unexpected ways, with the Republican majority leader in one instance siding with Democrats.

To Speaker John Boehner, it was "the House working its will." This week’s marathon debates marked a clear break with the past decade of House politics, where leaders tightly controlled floor debate and typically banned amendments. Mr. Boehner had pledged to allow legislators to have their say, and GOP leaders have not demanded party unity.

The result, however, has been a piece of legislation that, even in its unfinished state, President Obama and Democratic leaders in the Senate say they cannot accept. If the House and Senate fail to agree on a new funding bill – or the White House fails to sign it – by March 4 the government will shut down.

In a sampling of amendments passed Friday and earlier this week, the House voted to:

  • Cut salaries for employees or contractors charged with implementing the new health-care law.
  • Ban the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing individual mandates to purchase health insurance.
  • End federal subsidies for Planned Parenthood, a women's reproductive-health service provider that also performs about 300,000 abortions a year.
  • Bar the US Department of Education from regulating private career-oriented colleges.
  • Ban funding to implement the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
  • Cut funding that would help the Federal Communications Commission police the broadband industry to enforce "net neutrality" – the notion that Internet service providers should not favor certain content (like their own) over other content.
  • Democrats expressed their anger at the pace of the votes. "It's running government off the back of a galloping horse," said Rep. James McDermott (D) of Washington.

    Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland dubbed Friday's health-care amendments “a significant step backwards” that would "put insurance companies back in charge of Americans’ health-care choices."

    But in a development that surprised members on both sides of the aisle, the votes have not always been along strict, partisan lines

    • Bipartisan coalitions this week rallied to boost resources for police and firefighters, adding $298 million to funding for the popular Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and $510 million for firefighter-assistance grants.
    • Sixty Republicans joined 190 Democrats to reject an amendment that would have defunded the National Labor Relations Board.
    • Ninety-two Republicans, including majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Ohio, joined all Democrats in defeating an amendment by Rep. Jim Jordan (R) of Ohio to cut spending by another $22 billion.

    Conservatives, including most of the 87-member freshman class, had pushed hard for deep cuts. At their demand, House GOP leaders took to the floor a measure that proposed $62 billion in cuts. But Friday, they balked at accepting even deeper, across-the-board cuts.

    The cuts the House has already endorsed appear to be far too deep already for the Senate and the White House, pointing to the prospect of a government shutdown. “The last thing the American people need is for congressional Republicans or Democrats to draw a line in the sand that hinders keeping the government open," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in a press briefing on Friday.

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