House approves Republican deficit-cutting plan

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 9:50 p.m. MDT

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., holds her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A divided House approved a $3.6 trillion Republican budget on Thursday recasting Medicare and imposing sweeping cuts in domestic programs, capping a battle that gave both political parties a campaign-season stage to spotlight their warring deficit-cutting priorities.

But the partisan divisions over the measure, which is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, also underscores how tough it will be for lawmakers to achieve the cooperation needed to contend with a tsunami of tax and spending decisions that will engulf Congress right after this fall's elections.

"This is very easy," Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates debt reduction, said of House passage of a budget that will go no further in Congress. "When you get to the budget bomb at the end of the year, it's for real. You're going to actually have to pass something."

The fiscal plan the House passed Thursday by a near party-line 228-191 vote would reshape and squeeze savings out of Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health insurance programs for the elderly and poor. It would force deep cuts in a wide range of spending, including rail projects, research and Pell Grants for low-income college students.

It would block President Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes on couples earning above $250,000 a year. Instead, it would collapse the current six income tax rates into just two, with a top rate of 25 percent — well below the current 35 percent ceiling — while erasing tax deductions and other breaks that the GOP plan failed to specify.

HIGHWAY BILL PASSES: The House passed a stopgap three-month bill Thursday to keep federal highway and transit aid flowing and avoid a widespread shutdown of construction projects. The move pushes congressional action on a long-term overhaul of transportation programs deeper into an already fractious election year. The action came on a mostly party-line vote of 266 to 158 after Republicans and Democrats traded verbal jabs over how best to prevent economic disruption. That sent the bill to the Senate, which must pass the same measure by Saturday, when the government's authority to spend money on transportation programs and levy federal fuel taxes expires. The House planned to begin a two-week recess later Thursday, leaving senators with few other options.

COMMITTEE APPROVES FED NOMINATIONS: Senate committee has approved President Barack Obama's two nominations to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve's board. But prospects for a quick confirmation in the full Senate are uncertain. The Senate Banking Committee approved by voice vote the nominations of Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economics professor, and Jerome Powell, an investment banker.

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