- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The $60 billion in spending cuts House Republicans sent to their chamber floor Tuesday are more than just budget trims — they mark the beginning of the party’s effort to tweak the way the Obama administration has operated during its first two years.

Republicans have proposed zeroing out dozens of federal programs and entire White House offices, including President Obama’s top advisers on climate change and health care. Their bill also would impose dramatic restraints on Mr. Obama’s ability to pursue closing the detention facility for terrorism suspects at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, enact his land-use policies or follow through on Environmental Protection Agency action against states over greenhouse-gas emissions.

In short, the spending bill seeks to put Republicans’ “philosophical fingerprints” on the way government operates, said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and chairman of the agriculture spending subcommittee that zeroed out funding for several offices within the Agriculture Department.

“Elections have consequences,” said Mr. Kingston, who added that nobody should be surprised at what the Republicans chose to cut. “We’re probably not going to take it out of the hide of the troops as much as some [of the Obama] administration increases.”

On Tuesday, as the House began to debate the Republican bill, the White House issued a statement arguing that the measure would hinder the government’s ability to create jobs, and vowing that the president would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

“The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation, and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements,” the White House said in the statement, adding that if such a bill reaches his desk, “the president will veto it.”

The depth and scope of spending cuts has dominated the political debate in Washington since last year’s elections, with Republicans backing deep reductions and Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats arguing that government spending is an investment in job creation.

The first fight is over Republicans’ bill to fund the government for the rest of 2011, which would cut about $60 billion from 2010 spending, and which is being debated this week.

“We need to liberate our economy from the shackles of big government — not bury our children and grandchildren under a mountain of debt,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The bill includes significant reductions to domestic programs, but allows a small increase in defense spending, meaning total discretionary government funding in 2011 will reach $1.2 trillion.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to decide what money the government can spend, and Republicans, as in Congresses led by both parties before them, are using that power to try to restrict what Mr. Obama can do.

Their bill would halt some parts of last year’s health care law, would block his administration from following through on Bureau of Land Management wilderness policies announced in December, and would halt the president’s efforts to transfer terrorism-suspect detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for trial and imprisonment.

It also eliminates further funding for whole programs and offices within the administration, including the Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center, the White House’s health care reform office and Mr. Obama’s chief climate adviser, and a number of spending programs within the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Justice, and Homeland Security.

Those cuts likely would eliminate some federal jobs altogether, and Mr. Boehner said Republicans won’t shy away from such prospects.

“In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,” he said. “If some of those jobs are lost, so be it. We’re broke.”

Democrats challenged the 200,000 job number and said he showed a callous attitude toward those who would be out of work.

“Maybe ‘so be it’ for him, but not ‘so be it’ for people who are losing their jobs,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, said Republicans’ cuts amounted to a “meat cleaver” approach.

Republicans brought the bill to the House floor under rules that allowed a free-flowing debate on amendments — the first time in years that the rules were so open. Unshackled by their respective leaders, Republicans and Democrats immediately began dividing into pro-cuts and anti-cuts sides on defense spending.

On one side were conservative Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, and liberal Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, who pushed for cuts in advisory commissions and a small-business innovation fund at the Pentagon.

“If we can’t do this on defense, or on other wasteful spending, where can we do it?” Mr. Flake said.

But the cutters ran up against a bipartisan coalition of longtime members of the Appropriations Committee, who said the money is well-spent. They pointed to programs such as the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle as an example of a small-business innovation that has become invaluable to the war effort.

All of the amendments for defense cuts were defeated Tuesday, though more votes are expected throughout the week.

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