House GOP takes on health law, EPA

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 18 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Jane Whittaker and other abortion rights supporters rally in view of City Hall in opposition to proposed federal funding cuts aimed at family planning and restrictions that would prohibit funding for private organizations that use their own funds to facilitate abortions, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — In rapid-fire action Friday, the Republican-controlled House voted to strip federal money from President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and from Planned Parenthood and to bar the EPA from issuing global warming regulations.

Upping the ante in the budget faceoff, the Obama administration warned that workers who distribute Social Security benefits might be furloughed if congressional Republicans force cuts in government spending.

In a letter the Social Security Administration sent to its employees' union, agency officials said that while no decision about furloughs had been made, they were possible "given the potential of reduced congressional appropriations."

The letter was circulated by congressional Democrats, who said such cuts could mean shuttered Social Security offices and delayed benefit payments. The letter's distribution by Democrats underscored how the threat of jeopardizing Social Security payments is a potent political weapon.

GOP lawmakers accused Democrats of "irresponsible scare tactics," and said their proposed cuts would not affect benefits or force the Social Security Administration to close offices. Any furloughs "would result only if that decision were made by the administration," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a written statement.

Republicans are pushing a huge spending bill through the House that would impose deep cuts on domestic programs.

The overall bill is the first step in an increasingly bitter struggle between Democrats and Republicans over how much to cut federal agencies' funding over the second half of the budget year that ends Sept. 30. Current funding runs out March 4 and a temporary spending bill will be needed to avoid a government shutdown.

Republicans say the legislation would pare Social Security's administrative budget by $125 million from current levels plus another $500 million from a reserve fund. Democrats say the cut would leave the agency with $1.7 billion less than Obama requested.

Much of Friday's focus was on GOP efforts to block implementation of Obama's health care overhaul, which dominated Congress' work in 2009 and was enacted last year. An amendment by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., to block the health care overhaul money was approved by a 239-187 vote.

The GOP has virtually no chance of killing the law because of support for the program from Obama and the Democratic-run Senate, but House Republicans have been trying relentlessly to chip away at it.

"It's a law designed by those who wish to control every health care decision made by health care providers and patients, by every employer and employee, by every family and individual," Rehberg said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the GOP effort would "put insurance companies back in charge, further demonstrating the majority's special-interest priorities and hypocrisy on job creation and deficit reduction."

In Friday's action, Republicans muscled through a proposal to block federal aid to Planned Parenthood by a 240-185 vote and won bipartisan support to reverse a proposed Obama administration rule that seeks to crack down of for-profit colleges and vocational schools. A proposal by Texas Republican Ted Poe to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to issue regulations on global warming passed by a 249-177 vote.

Taken together, Friday's developments pushed the GOP-dominated House and the president even further apart as a March 4 deadline looms. It may make it more difficult to reach agreement if House Republicans become wedded to positions opposed by Obama and the Democratic-led Senate.

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