- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2011

With little more than an hour to go before a midnight government shutdown, President Obama and congressional leaders said Friday night they struck a tentative deal to give themselves more breathing space as they finalize a long-term bill to cut $37.7 billion in spending.

Early Saturday morning, when the government technically had run out of money, Congress passed and sent a short-term spending bill to the White House that keeps the government open until the end of next week. During that reprieve, the House and Senate are expected to pass a broader bill that funds the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30.

The leaders said the cuts are “historic,” and congratulated each other for reaching a deal, but a small rebellion was brewing among conservative Republicans who said it does not make the kinds of deep reductions they were seeking and that the House passed earlier this year.

“Tomorrow, I’m pleased to announce that the Washington Monument as well as the entire federal government will be open for business,” Mr. Obama said at the White House late Friday, minutes after House Speaker John A. Boehner announced the deal at the Capitol.

The Senate passed the short-term bill by voice vote, while the House passed it on a roll call vote.

“Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what the American people expect us to do. That’s why the sent us here.”

The spending cuts amount to $78.5 billion below what Mr. Obama had requested for 2011. The final number means discretionary spending will total $1.049 trillion this year, with $513 billion for the Defense Department.

Mr. Boehner reached the deal after weeks of negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

“I’m pleased that Senator Reid and I and the White House have been able to come to an agreement that will in fact cut spending and keep our government open,” Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. Reid, for his part, told colleagues on the Senate floor: “This is historic, what we’ve done.”

The cuts are the biggest non-defense spending cuts in the country’s history when judged by dollar amount.

Still, they pale in comparison to overall spending. The federal deficit in the month of March alone is estimated to be $189 billion — dramatically more than the full-year cuts Congress is contemplating.

They also fall short of Republicans’ pledge to return non-defense discretionary spending to pre-stimulus levels.

Under the deal, the Senate agreed to hold votes on a bill to stop funding for the new health care law and to alter federal money for family planning — both of which would need 60 votes to pass.

Republicans gave up on other demands, such as stopping some of Mr. Obama’s environmental agenda and limiting international family planning money.

But Republicans did secure provisions that will prevent the District of Columbia from spending taxpayer money on abortions, and will restore the city’s school voucher program — an issue dear to Mr. Boehner.

Already, many conservative Republicans said they will oppose the deal.

“I’m voting no,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee, which is the conservative caucus in the House. “It was RSC that pushed the number to $61 [billion]. We think that is just a modest down payment and so we are not pleased with the number. Frankly, we appreciate the speaker’s effort, but we wanted to make more progress on the life issue and we certainly, most importantly, wanted to get to the $61 billion in savings.”

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who pushed to have the bill withhold funding for health care, also criticized the deal.

“We’re at $39 billion, that doesn’t get us there and we made our stand at $61 billion,” Mr. King said. “If it were me, we wouldn’t be making a deal here.”

Of the cuts, $17.8 billion comes from mandatory spending, leaving only about $20 billion in cuts to 2010 discretionary spending. And some of those cuts are actually rescissions of previously unspent money, which means it does not affect the baseline spending number.

The discretionary cuts are far lower than the GOP had sought, but a Senate Democratic aide told reporters that Mr. Obama drew a line in the sand on that issue.

“The president was really adamant on ‘We have reached our limit on discretionary,’ ” the aide said.

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