Medicare, Medicaid remain untouched

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives on Saturday approved legislation to cut federal spending deeply through September, a plan that is sure to be stopped by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate.

The Republican-backed bill is a challenge to Obama to show he is serious about closing record budget deficits and sets up the possibility of government shut downs if a compromise is not worked out by March 4, when current funding expires.

On a largely partisan vote of 235-189, House Republicans passed the bill to cut spending by about $61.5 billion from current levels, marking a victory for Tea Party conservatives elected in November.

It would slash spending on many domestic programs by 14 percent, but leave untouched some of the biggest budget items including the Social Security pension program and the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly and poor.

House Speaker John Boehner said the legislation was part of Republican efforts "to liberate our economy from the shackles of out-of-control spending."

But Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republican-backed bill would damage the economy.

"They have made matters worse - passing a spending bill that destroys jobs, weakens the middle class, hurts schools and young adults, eliminates assistance to homeless veterans, and diminishes critical investments in our future," Pelosi said.

Obama has outlined his own plan for less severe spending cuts in 2012, and has warned that tightening the belt too much too soon could harm the slow economic recovery.

Boehner called on Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to arrange an immediate Senate vote on the House-passed bill.

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