Showdown Over Budget All But Certain In House

The House takes up the GOP plan to cut $100 billion from current spending.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

You could call this the year of the budget wars. President Obama's spending plan for next year got the thumbs down from most Republicans, and everyone is worried about the country's debt ceiling which will hit sometime this spring. Even before all of that, there is the rest of this year to fund. Today, the House took up a bill that would keep the government running from March through September.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has the story.

ANDREA SEABROOK: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said this morning, today is the day conservatives take back control of the budget.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia; Majority Leader): Republicans today were hitting the floor with the first big step towards trying to get our fiscal house in order by delivering on our commitment to cut more than $100 billion from the deficit this fiscal year.

SEABROOK: The size of the deficit and the depth of the cuts is what Republicans mainly focused on today, though Cantor's measure of $100 billion in cuts is only if you compare them to last year's White House proposal for spending, a proposal that was never enacted. If you compare the Republicans' plan to what's actually being spent right now, it's more like $60 billion in cuts.

Still a lot, says California's David Dreier.

Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): The cuts in this bill are larger than the gross domestic product of 126 countries.

SEABROOK: Now, Democrats say they don't oppose cuts per se. Just about everyone around here agrees the budget is out of whack. What they do oppose in Republicans' plan is what it cuts, like education funding that goes to Head Start and Pell grants for college, medical research, food safety inspections, bridges, roads and other construction projects.

Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern says Republicans are attacking these programs with a meat ax. The effect, he says, is...

Representative JIM MCGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): Reckless, thoughtless and heartless.

SEABROOK: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the cuts will hit home literally in people's neighborhoods.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): There would be up to 3,000 fewer cops on the beat and 24 hundred fewer firefighters on the job in our communities coast to coast.

SEABROOK: Pelosi questioned the values of Republicans' proposal, especially since just back in December the GOP demanded that tax cuts for the wealthy be extended for two more years.

Pelosi said these budget cuts will hurt most where government help is most relied on: Food assistance for poor and pregnant women, slashed; a billion dollar cut in community health centers; local programs to help low-income women and teenagers avoid getting pregnant, zeroed out.

Rep. PELOSI: When it comes to health and education, Republicans put women and children last.

SEABROOK: Pelosi and other Democrats also warned today, cutting these programs means cutting thousands of public sector jobs, to which Republican House Speaker John Boehner replied this morning...

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Speaker of the House): If some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We're broke.

SEABROOK: And that's the problem with the Democrats' arguments, says Idaho Republican Mike Simpson. He says he hears Democrats say the right things...

Representative MIKE SIMPSON (Republican, Idaho): We got to make tough decisions. We've got to reduce the deficit. We've got to cut our spending. I hear those words and those phrases by every speaker that's come up. But yet, they oppose every effort to try to reduce the spending as if it is a drastic reduction.

SEABROOK: When are Democrats going to get serious, ask Republicans? While Democrats ask, when are Republicans going to start cutting the real budget busters; Medicare and Medicaid, the Defense Department?

These are the big questions which will dominate Washington for months, if not years.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

NORRIS: One Republican offers qualified support for President Obama's budget. Former Senator Alan Simpson calls the plan a start.

Mr. ALAN SIMPSON: At least you have everybody on board to admit that deficits are real and that there's no one shrinking about, quote, "Oh, you can't cut this or you can't cut that." It's just degrees of cut, and that's some kind of progress from my 31 years in political life.

NORRIS: Senator Simpson co-chaired the presidential commission that proposed deficit reductions last year. And you can hear more from him in an interview on tomorrow's MORNING EDITION.

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