On Capitol Hill, Budget Bill Gets Mixed Reception

The compromise spending bill to keep the government running through September cuts $38.5 billion in discretionary and mandatory programs. The Democrats are spinning it as not as bad as it could have been. Big cuts, if you look line by line, come in disease prevention, health insurance programs, high-speed rail and clean water funds. But often it's the smaller cuts that hurt most. Some Republicans are already complaining they got a bad deal

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Early this morning, the 11th hour compromise that kept the government from shutting down became a bill that Congress must now vote on. The measure contains a vast array of spending cuts. Together, they add up to the $38.5 billion in reductions that negotiators agreed to for the remaining six months of this fiscal year.

As NPR's David Welna reports, the bill is getting a mixed reception on Capitol Hill.

DAVID WELNA: The selling of the shutdown-averting budget deal began in earnest today at the capitol. And perhaps the biggest salesman of all was the man who negotiated the deal on behalf of Senate Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid. He was pleased, he said, to have reached a budget deal in time to keep the government running.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): And I'm pleased that the budget will make historic cuts, saving the country money so we can lower our deficit and do a better job of living within our means.

WELNA: Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, touted the deal as proof his party is now driving the terms of the budget debate.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The ground shifted and spending reductions Democrats recently described as extreme and draconian, they are now calling historic and common sense. The debate has turned from how much to grow government to how much to reduce it.

WELNA: Some areas of government did well in that debate. Pentagon spending actually increases by $5 billion in the budget deal. A favorite program of President Obama's that gives monetary incentives for school reform, known as Race to the Top, gets an extra $700 million.

There is also more money for implementing the new health care law, a measure Republicans had aimed to repeal. Cuts in funding for Head Start and Planned Parenthood that the House had approved were dropped. Funds for carrying out a tough new food safety law were cut by only $10 million. The Environmental Protection Agency lost 16 percent of its budget, but none of its authority to regulate.

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said President Obama and leader Reid had prevailed over Republicans.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): Overall I think it was really a magnificent - and this is my words - performance by my leader and by the president in a circumstance where the other side was taking an ax to this budget and they were throwing women and children and the environment under the bus.

WELNA: There were some surprises in the budget bill. Homeland Security's budget was trimmed for the first time ever by two percent. Funding for a controversial second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was dropped. Pell Grants for the regular school year were left intact, but summer school grants were dropped. Nearly half the cuts come from mandatory spending programs, which some Republicans consider gimmickry.

Idaho Republican Senator Jim Risch is voting against the budget deal.

Senator JIM RISCH (Republican, Idaho): When, in fact, the cuts are so de minimis, they're almost unnoticeable and the American public starts thinking we're actually doing something up here, when we aren't.

WELNA: Another GOP senator, Kentucky's Rand Paul, sent a letter to colleagues urging them to oppose the bill.

Senator RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): People talk about cuts, but we will spend more in 2011 than we spent in 2010. Our budget deficit will be bigger in 2011 than it was in 2010. And I don't know that our country can withstand deficits of 1.5, $1.6 trillion.

WELNA: Such GOP opposition to the bill could create problems in the Senate and possibly in the House, as well. A filibuster could raise the specter of another government shutdown since the stopgap spending bill approved last Friday expires this week.

Some Democrats also have strong reservations about the budget deal. One of them is Iowa senator Tom Harkin.

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): There's a lot of things around here that you hold your nose and vote for. I can vote for it, yes. But in my own mind, I'm drawing some lines as we go forward in 2012 and in the future.

WELNA: Because the next big fight is over next year's budget.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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