With a government shutdown possible if the spending measure isn't extended at least temporarily, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, inflamed the situation Thursday by insisting that the GOP-controlled House would refuse to approve even a short-term measure at current spending levels.
"Read my lips: We're going to cut spending," Boehner declared. Democrats immediately charged that Boehner was maneuvering Congress to the precipice of a government shutdown.
The GOP would reduce spending to about $60 billion below last year's levels, mixing an increase of less than 2 percent for the Pentagon with slashing cuts averaging about 12 percent from non-Pentagon accounts. Such cuts would feel almost twice as deep since they would be spread over the final seven months of the budget year.
The Environmental Protection Agency and foreign aid accounts would be especially hard hit, while GOP leaders orchestrated just a modest cut to Congress' own budget.
Some of the most politically difficult cuts, to grants to local police and fire departments, special education and economic development grants, were reversed. Amtrak supporters easily withstood an attempt to slash its budget.
But with the fiscal framework of the measure already saddled with a veto threat, Republicans mounted an assault on the administration's regulatory agenda. By a 244-181 tally Thursday, Republicans voted to block the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing new rules that prohibit broadband providers from interfering with Internet traffic on their networks. The new "network neutrality" rules are opposed by large Internet providers.
Republicans then moved, on a 250-177 vote, to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing limits on mercury pollution from cement factories. Supporters said the new rules would send American jobs overseas, where air quality standards are more lax or non-existent.
Republicans also turned back Democratic attempts to boost funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, whose budgets would be cut sharply under the measure, to pay for responsibilities added in last year's overhaul of federal financial regulations.
Social issues also came into play.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a strong foe of abortion, sponsored the amendment to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal money. The organization provides a variety of women's health services.
"It is morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use them to fund organizations that provide and promote abortion, like Planned Parenthood of America," Pence said.
The debate over cutting off taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood Thursday night became heated at times. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., read a description of a graphic abortion procedure on the House floor, prompting Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., to deliver an emotional retort in which she acknowledged having the procedure herself as her 17-week pregnancy was failing.
"For you to stand on this floor and to suggest as you have that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous," Speier said.
Democrats said Planned Parenthood provides much-needed access to contraception, medical exams and counseling to women and that federal law already prohibits the use of government funds for abortions in most circumstances.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the GOP proposal would "make it harder to access pap tests, breast exams, routine gynecological examinations, flu vaccinations, smoking cessation services, cholesterol screening, contraceptives, and all of the other services that Planned Parenthood provides."
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