Historic spending cuts approved by the US House of Representatives face a grim future in the US Senate, raising prospects of a government shutdown and ramping up the public relations blame game.
After a marathon floor debate running well past midnight, the -Republican-controlled House voted on Saturday to cut about US$61 billion in government spending. US President Barack Obama’s administration and leaders in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, immediately criticized the move.
“The continuing opposition in the House would undermine and damage our capacity to create jobs and expand the economy,” US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said at a news conference after a G20 meeting in Paris.
The US government is presently funded through a stopgap spending measure expiring March 4, a result of congressional disagreement last year. A shutdown could delay Social Security checks, tax refunds and payments for veterans, Democrats said.
A similar standoff in 1995 forced a government shutdown widely viewed as having backfired on the Republicans, who controlled the Congress.
“No responsible elected official should even consider such an option,” US Senator Daniel Inouye, who chairs the powerful -Appropriations Committee, said after the House voted 235-189 along party lines. “The consequences of a shutdown would be immediate and dire.”
However, Geithner said he was “very confident” a shutdown would be avoided.
US House Speaker John Boehner celebrated passage of “one of the largest spending cuts in American history.”
The House slashed funds for Obama’s healthcare overhaul and voted to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating industries that emit greenhouse gases.
Boehner called the cuts “critical to reducing economic -uncertainty, encouraging private-sector investment and creating a better environment for job creation in our country.”
His office later released an analysis showing only 26 of 127 spending-cut amendments were sponsored by Democrats and “most were symbolic.”
It is “hard to claim your party is focused on ‘job creation and deficit reduction’ when you can’t point to much of anything you were actually willing to cut,” the statement said.
The House voted to scrap funds for a second engine for the F-35 fighter aircraft, eliminate funding for the US Institute of Peace, as well as the East-West Center — which Congress envisioned as a bridge to Asia.
“The House budget severely cuts funding for food security as global food prices are spiking. What happened to compassionate conservatism?” US Department of State spokesman P.J.Crowley tweeted.
One of the approved amendments would block US federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a family planning organization that supports abortion rights.
The organization said the funding cut would be “an outrageous assault” on its clients.
The House and Senate are in recess this week, giving lawmakers a narrow window to reach a compromise and making it increasingly likely that Congress will have to adopt a short-term spending bill.
However, Boehner has said he won’t accept any short-term measure that doesn’t markedly reduce spending — a step that would likely trigger a shutdown if the Senate rejects it.
US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had proposed a bill funding the government through March 31, but her staff was later quoted as saying a shutdown is likely.