WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives was on track to approve slashing 61 billion dollars in government spending in a measure that makes deep cuts to global US aid in the name of austerity.
Lawmakers in the Republican-led chamber have been at work since Tuesday on a spending bill to fund government operations for the 2011 fiscal year that ends September 30, laboriously dealing with nearly 600 amendments to the measure.
Final House passage was expected as early as Friday, setting the stage for a pitched battle with the Senate, which was all but certain to roll back many of the reductions and force hard-fought negotiations on a compromise.
A current stopgap spending measure expires March 4, and increasingly nasty verbal sparring and finger-pointing in the US Congress could lead to a failure to adopt a replacement, triggering a government shutdown.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both strongly warned lawmakers that overly deep cuts risk eroding US influence overseas and triggering crises hurting national security.
“We need the resources to do the job, otherwise we will pay a higher price later in crises that are allowed to simmer and boil over into conflicts,” Clinton said Monday.
“Drastic reductions in the size and strength of the US military make armed conflict all the more likely — with an unacceptably high cost in American blood and treasure,” Gates told lawmakers Wednesday.
Republicans have vowed to largely spare the Pentagon, and keep aid to Israel and Egypt intact, but said Washington needs to tighten its belt to deflate its yearly budget deficit and reducing its swollen national debt.
“To reduce uncertainty and create a better environment for job creation, we need to cut wasteful spending and we need to stop Washington’s spending binge,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
The House and Senate were to be in recess next week, giving them little time to agree on a compromise to avert a government shutdown — which would freeze government retirement checks and other basic services from Washington.
Democrats have denounced an array of foreign aid cuts in the Republican-crafted bill, warning that paring back the US State Department’s funds could notably hurt its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats have also highlighted how the bill would slash the budget of the US Agency of International Development, overseas economic development monies, global disaster and refugee aid, and funds to battle HIV/AIDS.