Updated at 8:25 a.m. on February 20.
Within hours after the House passed a bill early Saturday making $60 billion in federal spending cuts, the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the debate over the nation's budget yawned as deep as the deficit that negotiators hope to shrink.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged his Senate counterpart to approve swiftly the bill that the House passed just before dawn. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., meanwhile, suggested that Republicans needed to come to their senses before serious talks can begin.
To Boehner's call for "immediate" Senate action, Reid retorted that he hoped serious budget talks can begin "now that Republicans have gotten this vote out of their system." He said Democrats favor a smaller package of "smart cuts" and repeated his often-made accusation that Republicans demands are pushing the government towards a shutdown.
"I hope cooler heads will prevail," Reid said.
Even before the House vote, Senate Democratic leaders already signaled they will d seek to restore many of the cuts, which target causes favored by many of their party's key constituencies. They include cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood, to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and to efforts to enforce Internet and financial services regulation. The White House has threatened to veto any bill that include the deep cuts that Republicans have proposed.
Boehner portrayed the House bill as just a first installment. "We will not stop here in our efforts to cut spending, not when we're broke,'' he said in a statement Saturday morning.
When the House approved H.R. 1 at 4:40 a.m. after four days and nights of debate, not a single Democrat sided with the majority on the 235-189 vote. Also opposed were three Republicans: Reps. John Campbell of California, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Walter Jones of North Carolina.
Looming is a deadline of March 4 for lawmakers to agree on a compromise on the budget through September or face a government shutdown akin to one in 1995. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had proposed Friday night a stopgap measure to keep the government functioning through March 31, but it was dismissed.
Lawmakers did, however, agree to restore funding keeping some police and firefighters working through September.
Among other items cut by the House: heating subsidies for poor households (of which the Obama administration also proposed a cut) and $450 million for a new F-35 fighter jet engine, a project Boehner had strongly supported. But House members voted to keep funding for ads at NASCAR events for military recruiting, an item several Democrats wanted to trim.
As contentious as the week's debate has been, analysts say Congress and the White House have focused on discretionary spending while generally punting on the much bigger outlays for entitlements and defense and shying away from talk on tax increases.
Only a package that combines all of these elements—taxes and outlays, defense and domestic spending, discretionary programs and entitlements—can control the deficit, the National Journal's Ronald Brownstein wrote. The problem’s magnitude “forces you to do some of everything,” Urban Institute President Robert Reischauer, a former Congressional Budget Office director, told National Journal.
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