Thought 2011 budget battle was messy? Wait for next round

McClatchy NewspapersApril 14, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Congress voted Thursday to keep the federal government running through the end of September.

But approval came only after a struggle that saw dozens of conservatives and liberals oppose the painstakingly crafted compromise spending plan, signaling a difficult path ahead as Congress and the White House begin the tougher task of writing budgets for next year and beyond.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a series of budget plans for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

On Thursday, the House voted 260-167 for a plan that funds the government for remainder of fiscal 2011. It includes $38.5 billion in spending cuts, the largest one-year non-defense cuts ever.

The Senate later agreed, 81-19, to the plan worked out between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders a week ago, only hours before much of the government would have run out of money and shut down.

The votes foreshadowed conflicts ahead, with 59 House Republicans and 108 Democrats opposing the short-term funding bill, and among them some of the two parties' leadership teams. Republicans have a 241-192 majority in the House.

Among the biggest cuts are $5.5 billion from the labor, education and health and human services budgets; $3 billion from agriculture programs; $1.7 billion from energy and water programs; $784 million from homeland security and $2.62 billion from interior and environmental programs.

Congress itself will take a 5 percent hit and will have to reduce office expenses.

But the Pentagon will get $5 billion more than it did last year. The bill also bars Guantanamo prisoners from being transferred to the U.S. and prevents the construction or modification of detention facilities in the U.S. to house them.

The bill also requires the defense secretary to certify to Congress that a transfer of a detainee to a foreign nation or entity "will not jeopardize the safety of the U.S. and its citizens." These measures are nearly identical to current law.

The bigger impact of the plan approved Thursday is its meaning for the budget battles ahead.

"To say it showed where harder positions are would be accurate," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a leading conservative. "We wanted more cuts."

But liberals such as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, warned there were already too many cuts.

She voted "a big fat no," and explained, "I don't believe this does anything but soothe minute favorite interests."

The House on Friday will take up a package authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that could cut $4.4 trillion from projected federal deficits over the next 10 years.

Ryan would revamp the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and reduce the top corporate and individual tax rates, now 35 percent, to 25 percent.

Obama on Wednesday offered his own broad outline for deficit reduction. He'd cut $4 trillion from deficits over the next 12 years, mixing $3 in spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases. He'd end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and make no major changes in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Negotiators from both parties are expected to try to craft a compromise, starting next month.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is looking for a framework by the end of June, not necessarily anything close to a vote on a complete package.

"You can't do all of this in 30 or 60 days, obviously, but what you can agree on is a definition of the problem," Carney said, "a framework for how to approach addressing the problem; and some targets and goals about how you achieve some accomplishments toward a solution."

The Thursday votes illustrated how difficult it will be simply to keep lawmakers in the same political parties unified.

Carney appeared unfazed. "There is a certain realization taking hold that ... there is an urgency to addressing this problem and that it requires bipartisan action," he said.

Thursday's votes may have indicated how difficult that might be. Congress also voted, and failed to pass, Republican-led efforts to strip funding for the 2010 health care law as well as Planned Parenthood, which provides women's health services, including abortions.

The Republican-dominated House passed both measures, but they were defeated in the Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who voted against the fiscal 2011 budget plan, made it clear she was unenthusiastic about it and ready to fight for future budgets more to her liking.

"I feel no ownership of that, or any responsibility to it," she said of the 2011 agreement, "except that we don't want to shut down the government.

Conservatives weren't crazy about the plan, either. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., called the savings "a pittance."

The rhetoric was similar to views of the 2012 budget. Conservatives sent strong signals that they're not about to agree to any tax increases, period.

"The best way to bring down the debt and to create the climate that will lead to good private-sector jobs and prosperity is not to repeat the policies of the past but to change them," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "and that means cutting Washington spending, not squeezing family budgets even more."

But liberals countered they're eager to see fewer spending cuts for domestic programs, and more taxes on the wealthy. And they don't want to include those cuts as part of an agreement on the nation's debt limit, which is expected to be reached sometime next month.

Republicans want cuts before they'll agree to raise the limit, now $14.3 trillion. Liberals say forget it.

"This is not a leverage point," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., of the debt limit extension. "This is a moral obligation."

Democratic leaders, liberals, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, are each expected to offer separate budget plans Friday.

ON THE WEB:

House vote on 2011 budget

House Democratic budget

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

House Republican spending cuts

President Obama's 2012 budget

Congressional Budget Office budget and economic outlook

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY:

Obama's budget would add $13 trillion to national debt

Obama's deficit plan begins tug or war with Republicans

Experts: Obama and GOP duck the big budget issues

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service