- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Congress on Tuesday revoked the first significant parts of President Obama’s health care initiative when the Senate voted overwhelmingly to eliminate a burdensome tax paperwork requirement the law imposes on businesses.

Republicans called the bill “a down payment on total repeal” while most Democrats said it marked an improvement in last year’s law. The bill had previously cleared the House and now goes directly to Mr. Obama.

But it marked a rare flash of bipartisanship on a day when Democrats and Republicans otherwise clashed over short-term and long-term spending as they girded for a government shutdown by week’s end.

“Just as the executive branch is doing, we’re also preparing for the possibility of a shutdown,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, told reporters after a morning meeting at the White House between top Republicans and Democrats failed to produce a breakthrough.

Even with that battle unresolved, House Republicans opened a new front in the spending wars when Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled his 2012 spending blueprint, calling for major changes to both Medicare and Medicaid, the big health care programs that are projected to drive up federal deficits in coming years.

President Obama talks with reporters about the 2011 budget negotiations. He said he should not have to be a referee for Congress. (Associated Press)
President Obama talks with reporters about the 2011 budget negotiations. He said ... more >

The government’s staggering debt and annual trillion-dollar deficits have dominated the discussion in Washington since the beginning of the year, but have come to a head as Congress races to beat an April 8 deadline, when stopgap funding expires.

Republicans are demanding deep cuts in spending and Democrats have slowly been moving in their direction, though they argue the GOP is pushing too far.

Mr. Obama himself got involved in the negotiations Tuesday, hosting the White House meeting, but he said he shouldn’t have to be the referee for the two parties.

“I shouldn’t have to oversee a process in which Congress deals with last year’s budget where we only have six months left — especially when both parties have agreed that we need to make substantial cuts and we’re more or less at the same number,” a visibly frustrated president told reporters when he made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room.

Congress is racing against a shutdown deadline because lawmakers failed to pass a budget or any of the dozen annual spending bills before the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2011.

Democrats, who controlled both the House and Senate last year, shut down Congress in the run-up to the elections and used the postelection lame-duck session to extend tax breaks and unemployment benefits and end the ban on acknowledged gays serving in the military.

Republicans and Democrats have traded proposed cuts this year, but only the House has passed a yearlong funding bill, which includes $61 billion in cuts from 2010 levels.

Democrats, who still control the Senate, have signaled their desire to negotiate a final deal behind closed doors.

They said they thought a compromise had been reached with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to cut $33 billion. But Mr. Boehner said no deal was finalized because they couldn’t agree on the exact makeup of those cuts or on what legislative add-ons, known as policy riders, to include.

Among those riders are provisions to restrict federal funding for Planned Parenthood and to curb Mr. Obama’s authority to implement the health care law.

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