WASHINGTON (AFP) – Historic spending cuts approved by the US House of Representatives face a grim future in the Senate, raising prospects of a government shutdown and ramping up the public relations blame game.
After a marathon floor debate running well past midnight, the Republican-controlled House voted Saturday to cut about $61 billion in government spending.
US President Barack Obama’s administration and leaders in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, immediately criticized the move.
“The continuing opposition in the House would undermine and damage our capacity to create jobs and expand the economy,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said at a news conference after a Group of 20 meeting in Paris.
The government is currently funded through a stopgap spending measure expiring March 4, a result of congressional disagreement last year. A shutdown could delay Social Security checks, tax refunds and payments for veterans, Democrats claim.
A similar standoff in 1995 forced a government shutdown widely viewed as having backfired on the Republicans who then controlled Congress.
“No responsible elected official should even consider such an option,” Senator Daniel Inouye, who chairs the powerful appropriations committee, said after the House voted 235-189 along party lines. “The consequences of a shutdown would be immediate and dire.”
But Geithner said he is “very confident” a shutdown would be avoided.
House Speaker John Boehner celebrated passage of “one of the largest spending cuts in American history.”
The House slashed funds for Obama’s health care overhaul, and voted to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating industries that emit greenhouse gases.
Boehner called the cuts “critical to reducing economic uncertainty, encouraging private-sector investment and creating a better environment for job creation in our country.”
His office later released an analysis showing only 26 of 127 spending-cut amendments were sponsored by Democrats and “most were symbolic.”
It is “hard to claim your party is focused on ‘job creation and deficit reduction’ when you can’t point to much of anything you were actually willing to cut,” the statement said.
The House voted to scrap funds for a second engine for the F-35 fighter aircraft, eliminate funding for the US Institute of Peace as well as the East-West Center — which Congress envisioned as a bridge to Asia.
“The House budget severely cuts funding for food security as global food prices are spiking. What happened to compassionate conservatism?,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley tweeted.
One of the approved amendments would block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a family planning organization that supports abortion rights. It said the funding cut would be “an outrageous assault” on its clients.
The House and Senate are in recess next week, giving lawmakers a narrow window to reach a compromise and making it increasingly likely that Congress will have to adopt a short-term spending bill.
Boehner has warned, however, that he will not accept any short-term measure that does not markedly reduce spending — a step that would likely trigger a shutdown if the Senate rejects it.
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi had proposed a bill funding the government through March 31, but her staff was later quoted as saying a shutdown is likely.
Senate Democrats could approve short-term funding to keep the government running and essentially dare Boehner to reject it.
Obama this week threatened to veto the bill if it undermines national security or economic recovery.
But efforts to fashion a compromise have also been under way. The two chairmen of the powerful House and Senate appropriations committees, Republican Harold Rogers and Democrat Daniel Inouye, have been in conversations as the process has evolved, media reports said.
Enough Republicans voted with Democrats to defeat a proposal to withhold dues to the United Nations pushed by Republican Representative Paul Broun, a member of the Tea Party caucus.
They also rejected an amendment to cut $400 million for Afghanistan’s infrastructure, and protected $1.5 billion for Iraqi security forces.
The House also voted to withhold military assistance to Chad because of the African nation’s use of child soldiers.