Budget Battle Revolves Around What To Cut
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are nearing the first full-scale test of a new Congress, where Republicans run the House and Democrats control the Senate. Congress never managed to pass the routine spending bills for the fiscal year now underway. The government has been running on temporary spending measures, the latest of which expires in March. Republicans are demanding big spending cuts as the price for keeping the government open. Democrats are resisting. Tens of billions of dollars are at stake.
And as the House debates the spending bill now, lawmakers are reframing their ideological battles as fights over money. NPR's Audie Cornish reports.
AUDIE CORNISH: Whether they were dealing with clean air regulations or special interest money in elections or the new financial industry laws, most of the amendments seem to rehash the policy debates of the last two years. Georgia Republican Tom Price explained it this way.
Representative TOM PRICE (Republican, Georgia): This side tends to believe in more regulation and more oppression, this side tends to believe in less regulation and less oppression. This side believes in big government solutions, we believe in people. It's pretty simple.
Representative ANNA ESHOO (Democrat, California): You want to try and hurt agencies that carry out what the Congress does? That's where your party is. That's where your disdain lies. But I think this is a march to folly.
CORNISH: And that's Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California.
The debate was a tug-of-war between those who wanted to restore cuts or dig deeper. Sometimes alliances shifted - depending on geography or ideology. Sometimes Republicans found themselves up against other Republicans. The results were mixed.
For instance, Congresswoman Eshoo and the Democrats wanted to enforce new Internet regulations, so they tried to stop an amendment barring the FCC from spending money to do so. They failed. But Congressman Price didn't get support for his proposal to zero out funding for the National Labor Relations Board, which mediates conflicts between employees and their bosses.
The House bill, a stop-gap spending measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, would go next to the Senate, where Democrats are not impressed by the House pileup. Here's New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): I think there are 400 legislative items that have nothing to do with spending added to the CR. How are you going to keep the government flowing forward? How are you going to negotiate a budget act if you're putting all this ideological baggage in the CR?
CORNISH: Senate Democrats say they have too few days to review the bill so they want to pass another temporary bill that keeps spending frozen at current levels while they work out a deal. That idea was rejected by House Speaker John Boehner.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): Our goal here is to cut spending. But I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips: We're going to cut spending.
CORNISH: That upped the ante, sparking a round of finger-pointing between Boehner and Senate Democrats like Kent Conrad and Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Rep. BOEHNER: We have some Democrats here on Capitol Hill threatening to shut down the government.
Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): Well, then he would be responsible for shutting down the government.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Majority Leader): They shouldn't be threatening to shut down the government.
CORNISH: And just in case that happens, California Democrat Barbara Boxer is readying a bill that says that if negotiations fail and the government shuts down, lawmakers don't get paid their salaries.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.
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