GOP newcomers test mandate to shrink government

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 19 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

WIC, which provides nutritional support for women and infants, would be cut by $747 million. Training and employment grants to the states are ticketed for a $1.4 billion reduction. Pell Grants for lower-income college students would drop by $5.6 billion, which the White House says would reduce the maximum $5,550 grant by $845.

The Food and Drug Administration would be cut by $241 million, Community Health Centers by $1 billion, and education aid for disadvantaged students by $700 million. Cleanup efforts in the Great Lakes would take a 53 percent cut.

Defense spending would rise by less than 2 percent, to $674 billion, an amount that includes $158 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in one striking example of the difference made by the Republican newcomers, the House voted to strip out $450 million to continue work on an alternative engine for the F-35, the Pentagon's next generation warplane.

Two successive presidents have tried to kill the program, the Pentagon opposes it and a letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates was used by opponents to swell their ranks in the days before the vote. The last time the House voted, last spring, the money was approved.

The House agreed to block the FCC from enforcing regulations that were opposed by large Internet service providers and to stop the Department of Education from imposing restrictions that privately owned colleges opposed.

The EPA, targeted for a cut of $3 billion, or 29 percent of its current budget, was blocked from regulating greenhouse gases, which are blamed for global warming.

Critics said Republicans were catering to industry at the expense of public health and safety. But in each case, advocates of the prohibitions argued that the regulations would kill jobs.

The debate over jobs, the overriding issue in last fall's elections, was central to the entire bill.

Republicans said their overriding objective was to cut government spending and block federal regulations so private employers would create jobs and bring down the national 9 percent unemployment rate.

But administration estimates circulated in Congress said the bill's cut to Head Start would lead to about 55,000 layoffs among teachers and support staff. A reduction in Title I money to schools with disadvantaged students would mean "10,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs," the administration said.

Republicans struggled to defend elements of their bill in light of such estimates. GOP lawmakers suggested at one point that spending on those programs had jumped dramatically, then they attacked other Democratic predictions of job losses as unreliable.

Democrats swiftly criticized Boehner when he said at one point that if federal employees lose their jobs as a result of the bill, "so be it."

He later recast his comment without apologizing or yielding on the spending cuts.

"I don't want anyone to lose their job, whether they're a federal employee or not," Boehner said. "But come on, we're broke. We've got to make the tough decisions, and the American people sent their representatives here to Washington to make tough decisions on their behalf."

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