By Molly K. Hooper at The Hill
In a rare Saturday morning session, the House voted to cut more than $60 billion in spending for the federal government for the remainder of the year.
At 4:40 a.m., lawmakers voted 235-189 to send the so-called continuing resolution to the Senate. Not one Democrat voted for the bill that would cut at least $61 billion, from 2010 levels, in spending for federal programs and agencies.
Three Republicans, Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.), opposed the bill that would pay for government operations on March 4, when the current funding is set to expire.
For the past four days, lawmakers in the people’s house debated the stringent spending cuts, submitted by GOP House leaders who pledged to cut at least $100 billion in federal spending from the president’s 2011 budget request.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted on an “open process,” in which lawmakers were allowed to offer unlimited amendments to the base bill.
After whittling down more than 500 amendments submitted to the measure, the House voted on nearly 70 amendments and rejected just over 50.
On Friday, the House held a series of lightning-round votes on the scores of amendments – approving items that would defund the president’s healthcare law, portions of the Environmental Protection Agency, Planned Parenthood and other federal programs.
Following passage of the CR, Boehner issued a statement calling on Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) to schedule an immediate vote on the bill that the Speaker said contains “the largest spending cuts in American history.”
“For the good of our economy and our democracy, I call on Senate Majority Leader Reid to allow it to come to an immediate vote.
“Cutting federal spending is critical to reducing economic uncertainty, encouraging private-sector investment, and creating a better environment for job creation in our country,” Boehner said in a statement.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attacked the Republicans’ bill, which she contends will “destroy jobs.”
“Congressional Republicans have spent the last six weeks ignoring jobs and refusing to offer a plan to grow our economy. Today, they have made matters worse – passing a spending bill that destroys jobs, weakens the middle class, hurts schools and young adults, eliminates assistance to homeless veterans, and diminishes critical investments in our future,” Pelosi charged.
Congressional Republicans face an uphill climb to reach a compromise on a CR with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a presidential veto threat of the bill that the House approved on Saurday.
With little more than two weeks before the current continuing resolution expires, Congress will likely have to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund government operations while the House and Senate negotiate a deal on spending levels for the remaining seven months in the 2011 fiscal year.
Late Friday, House Democratic leaders introduced a temporary funding bill that would freeze current government levels until March 31 “to prevent any interruption in vital government services.”
As Democratic leaders submitted their temporary funding bill, Boehner, engaged in conversation with a gaggle of reporters, revealed that details of a stopgap measure acceptable to Republicans to avert government shutdown on March 4 will be ready “soon enough.”
Members of the House GOP’s majority-making freshman class of 87 lawmakers have indicated their opposition to even a short-term, two-week extension of funding at current levels. According to several frosh members, the class of 2010 believes they were sent to D.C. with a mandate to shrink the size of government and rein in spending.
Boehner said that he had not talked to the White House about the as-of-yet-unseen GOP stopgap measure.
Asked if he had discussions with Reid, Boehner wouldn’t say. Putting his hands up, Boehner shook his head: “Stop, stop, stop … I just came out here to say ‘hi’ and thanks for covering” the fourth long day of freewheeling debate that unfolded on the House floor over the GOP’s austere funding cuts.
Boehner’s revelation of a short-term measure came little more than one day after pundits seized on a comment he made that seemed to raise the specter of a government shutdown.
“I am not going to move any kind of short-term [resolution] at current levels,” he said at a press conference on Thursday, a statement that set up a potential standoff with Democrats that could end in a government shutdown.
On Friday, Boehner pushed back on talk of a government shutdown, however.
“The only people in this town rooting for a government shutdown are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. There’s not one Republican talking about government shutdown. Our goal is to cut spending because it will lead to a better environment for job creation in America,” Boehner said.
The Senate won’t start work on the funding bill until after Congress returns from the Presidents Day recess, on Feb. 28 – only five days before current government funding is set to expire.
Boehner told reporters who followed the lengthy debate late Friday night that lawmakers were happy to remain in session, well after the intended Thursday recess target, to have a chance to debate on the House floor.
The Ohio lawmaker said that there was “a lot of pent-up demand” for open debate on the House floor, after years of restrictions placed on House members to offer amendments to legislation on the floor.
He added that the unprecedented debate on the floor over federal spending was the first of many battles to come in the next few months.
“It’s going to be fascinating here over the next few weeks and months as we work our way through this, but these are going to be the most important two, three, four months that we’ve seen in decades,” Boehner said.
Comment: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”