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GOP bill pairs budget cuts, regulatory rollbacks

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 19 2011 12:10 a.m. MST

As Republicans and Democrats square off over a spending bill, congressmen, legislative aides and assistants ply the halls of the House of Representatives Friday evening on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 18, 2011. Votes and debate are scheduled throughout the night.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The GOP-controlled House is using a catchall spending bill not just to cut President Barack Obama's budget but to assault his health care overhaul, global warming policy and efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The House worked deep into Saturday morning toward a final vote to pass the bill, as Republicans won vote after vote protecting various industries from regulations Republicans deemed were a drag on business.

The measure faced a veto threat and implacable opposition from majority Democrats in the Senate even before the GOP amendments adopted Thursday, Friday and early Saturday morning pushed the bill further and further to the right on health care and environmental policy.

Changes rammed through on Friday would shield greenhouse-gas polluters and privately owned colleges from federal regulators, block a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and bar the government from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution, siding with business groups over environmental activists and federal regulators in almost every instance.

The future of the bill is up in the air. Current funding runs out March 4, requiring a stopgap measure while the Senate works on its version. Then, Obama and the Republican House will have to hash out scores of differences. House Speaker John Boehner promises that any short-term measure to provide time for such talks will cut spending too, rather than maintain government operations at current rates as is traditional.

House conservatives had earlier forced GOP leaders to add cuts above those earlier planned. But they had less success in forcing additional cuts to the measure during floor debate in the face of resistance from the Appropriations Committee and its allies.

"The American people have spoken. They demand that Washington stop its out-of-control spending now, not some time in the future," declared Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the 87 newly elected Republicans who have moved aggressively to attack federal deficits and reduce government's reach.

A tea party-backed amendment to slash $22 billion on top of the $60-billion-plus worth of steep cuts already made by the measure failed almost 2-1.

The sweeping $1.2 trillion bill covers every Cabinet agency and would make cuts totaling more than $60 billion from them through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, compared with last year's levels. The reductions are aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection, and heating and housing subsidies for the poor.

The Pentagon would receive a less than 2 percent increase while domestic agencies would bear slashing cuts of about 12 percent. Such cuts would feel almost twice as deep since they would be spread over the final seven months of the budget year.

The Obama administration upped the ante on Friday, warning that workers who distribute Social Security benefits might be furloughed if the GOP cuts go through.

Republicans recoiled, however, from some of the most politically difficult cuts to grants to local police and fire departments, special education and economic development. Amtrak supporters easily withstood an attempt to slash its budget.

About the only victory scored by Obama during the week came on a vote Wednesday to cancel $450 million for a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon's next-generation F-35 warplane. It was a top priority of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and passed with the votes of many GOP conservatives who opposed the $3 billion program, more than half of the 87 Republican freshmen elected last fall on promises to cut the budget.

Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the measure and Obama has threatened a veto if it reaches his desk, citing sweeping cuts that he says would endanger the economic recovery.

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