J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — On a collision course over spending, House Republicans advanced a sweeping, $61 billion package of budget reductions on Tuesday despite a swift veto threat and a warning from President Barack Obama against unwise cuts "that could endanger the recovery."
Congressional Democrats said the Republican cuts would reduce U.S. employment rather than add to it and leapt to criticize when House Speaker John Boehner said "so be it" if jobs are lost among the ranks of federal employees.
Spending legislation must be signed into law by March 4 to prevent a government shutdown that neither side says it wants. The GOP bill, separate from the 2012 budget Obama unveiled on Monday, covers spending for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.
The current legislation would affect domestic programs ranging from education and science to agriculture and parks, and it marks the first significant attack on federal deficits by Republicans elected last fall with the support of tea party activists. Passage is expected by week's end in the House, but a frosty reception is expected later in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
For all the maneuvering, the measure is merely a first round in what looms as a politically defining struggle that will soon expand to encompass Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the large government programs that provide benefits directly to tens of millions.
"We know we can't balance this budget simply by reducing nonsecurity, nondefense spending," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, referring to the 350-page bill that would cut $61 billion from domestic programs.
"But as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is that first step."
The measure is sweeping in its scope, cutting spending from literally hundreds of domestic budget accounts and eliminating many others. At the same time, Pentagon spending would rise from current levels.
In a reflection of tea party priorities, earmarks are banned in the bill. And in a fulfillment of a promise that Republicans made to the voters last fall, about $100 billion would be cut from funds that Obama requested for the current fiscal year.
While Republicans touted their legislation as an essential step toward deficit control, Democrats argued it was dangerous.
"With severe and indiscriminate spending cuts, it goes too far. This legislation will destroy American jobs while harming middle class families, young adults, seniors and, yes, even our veterans," said California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader.
At a White House news conference, Obama said he looked forward to working with lawmakers in both parties on the spending bill, which he noted includes funding to allow the government to remain in operation after existing authority expires on March 4.
At the same time, in an apparent reference to the GOP campaign promises for $100 billion in cuts, he said, "I think it is important to make sure that we don't try to make a series of symbolic cuts this year that could endanger the recovery."
A few hours after Obama spoke, the White House issued a formal statement expressing "strong opposition" to the legislation. It threatened a veto if the bill "undermines critical priorities or national security . or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation."
The Environmental Protection Agency, a favorite target of conservatives, is ticketed for a 29 percent cut from last year's levels. The Food and Drug Administration budget would decline by 10 percent, and spending would also fall by 10 percent for the government's principal nutrition program for pregnant women and children.
Republicans used their first major spending bill to reflect conservative priorities on a range of issues, from abortion to the environment.
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