David Espo, AP
WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama hard-fought legislation cutting a record US$38 billion from federal spending on Thursday, bestowing bipartisan support on the first major compromise between the White House and newly empowered Republicans in Congress.
“Welcome to divided government,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Republican point man in tough negotiations with the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that produced a bill no one claimed to like in its entirety.
Leader of a rambunctious new majority, Boehner said the cuts in domestic programs were unprecedented. Yet he also called the measure a less-than-perfect first step in a long campaign against federal red ink, and dozens of rank-and-file conservatives voted against it.
The White House also looked ahead to a struggle now beginning over national spending priorities in an era of soaring deficits and a US$14 trillion national debt.
“We all know there are tough challenges ahead, from growing our economy to reducing our deficit, but we must build on this bipartisan compromise to tackle these issues and meet the expectations of the American people,” said an administration statement.
The bipartisan votes belied a fierce struggle that preceded passage and only narrowly avoided a partial government shutdown a week ago.
The tally in the House was 260-167. Among the supporters were 60 of the 87 first-term Republicans, many of them elected with tea party support.
The Senate added its approval a short while later, 81-19, and most of the opponents were conservatives who wanted deeper cuts.
Even before the final votes, House Republicans pointed eagerly toward a vote Friday on their next move against mounting deficits, a comprehensive budget that claims cuts measured in the trillions, rather than billions, over the next decade. That vote is expected to be as partisan as the spending bill was not.
The measure approved Thursday will finance the government through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, chopping US$38 billion from current levels and US$78 billion from the president’s request of more than a year ago.
Billions were saved by eliminating congressional earmarks, and billions more in funds from the Census Bureau, left over from the 2010 national head count, now finished.
The Environmental Protection Agency, one of the Republicans’ favorite targets, took a US$1.6 billion cut. Spending for community health centers was reduced by US$600 million, and the Community Development Block Grant program favored by mayors by US$950 million more.
The bipartisan drive to cut federal spending reached into every corner of the government’s sprawl of domestic programs. Money to renovate the Commerce Department building in Washington was cut by US$8 million. The Appalachian Regional Commission, a New Deal-era program, was nicked for another $8 million and the National Park Service by US$127 million more.