House Lawmakers Pass Spending Cuts

In a narrow 217-215 vote, the House eked out passage of a bill Thursday that cuts about $50 billion in federal spending over the next five years. Much of the cuts were to popular social welfare programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and foster care.

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By the narrowest of margins, 217-to-215, the House of Representatives passed a bill late last night that Republican leaders have been trying to get through for weeks. It makes about $50 billion in cuts in federal spending, much of it in popular social welfare programs. The package was thrown into doubt yesterday when the House voted down the annual spending bill to fund the Education, Labor and Health and Human Services departments. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

This has been an embarrassing bill for House Republican leaders. First, conservatives in the party forced them to cut deeper than they had planned into popular social welfare programs. Then moderate Republicans refused to vote for the cuts, until the leaders rolled some of them back and even deleted parts of the bill. And during the weeks of uncertainty, Republicans couldn't count on a single Democrat to vote for the bill. That's because they, like Democratic conference leader Bob Menendez of New Jersey, called the bill an all-out assault on the nation's most vulnerable people.

Representative ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): For a party that talks about family values, in this bill Republicans walk away from nearly every responsibility we have as parents and legislators. What type of value cuts more than $14 billion in student-loan funding, increasing the cost of college for American families by 6,000?

SEABROOK: The bill also cuts money from Medicaid, food stamps, foster care and child support. Republicans said the spending cuts are needed to reduce the budget deficit and pay for the unexpected costs of rebuilding after the hurricanes. And during floor debate last night, led, in part, by Florida's Adam Putnam, Republicans said they really shouldn't be called cuts.

Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): Only in Washington and only in the other side's rhetoric is a reduction in the rate of increase considered a cut. When growth rates are going from 7 1/2 percent to 7.3 percent and programs are getting more dollars the next year than they got the year before, that is not a cut.

SEABROOK: But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released figures showing that the spending reductions will force tens of thousands of people off food stamps and Medicaid and raise the cost of college loans by thousands of dollars per student. Democrat Marion Berry addressed Republicans across the House chamber with his usual Arkansas style.

Representative MARION BERRY (Democrat, Arkansas): I'm absolutely amazed at you boys over there. I wonder what you're gonna be when you grow up?

SEABROOK: Berry called the bill an unparalleled display of down-hard(ph) foolishness and pointed his comments directly at Republican Putnam, who is 31 years old.

Rep. BERRY: And you can be cute, you can be smart, and you may even pull this off, son, but I'll tell you one thing. You're young enough, you're going to have to live with it. You are putting a tax on the next generation that they can't pay and they can't repeal it.

SEABROOK: But Republicans, including Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle of Iowa, fired back that they are saving Americans money.

Representative JIM NUSSLE (Republican, Iowa): The Democrats act like this is the government's money that we're talking about here tonight. This isn't the government's money. Mr. Speaker, this is the hard-working taxpayers' money.

SEABROOK: And after cutting spending, Republicans aim to cut taxes even further. Next up on the House schedule is a package of some $70 billion of tax cuts, some of them benefiting wealthier Americans. That vote could be contentious, as well, as moderate Republicans worry about the image of cutting programs for the poor while reducing taxes for the wealthy. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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