House passes cuts package

A win for GOP after $602 billion spending measure is defeated


WASHINGTON --In a hard-fought vindication for Republican leaders, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a $50 billion package of spending cuts early this morning, ending an impasse with moderate lawmakers that lasted more than a week and notching a win for President Bush.

The measure passed by a vote of 217-215 around 1:45 a.m.

Conservative Republicans hailed the legislation as a crucial first step toward reining in federal spending. They cited the need to cut spending over the next five years, in programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, to begin balancing out the budgetary effects of the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

"What we're trying to do is save the future generations from mountains upon mountains upon mountains of debt," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina. "The deception is saying that we should do nothing."

But Democrats, who unanimously opposed the bill, assailed the idea of curtailing social programs while laying the groundwork to pass a tax-cut package worth roughly $57 billion. That vote could come as soon as today.

"This is the cruelest lie of all: That the only way you can help people who have lost everything is by hurting somebody else," said Rep. Gene Taylor, a Mississippi Democrat.

The Senate passed its own tax cut bill, worth approximately $60 billion, just after midnight.

The Republican victory came after more than a week of wrangling between budget hawks within the party and more moderate lawmakers, who forced a series of concessions in exchange for their support. Party leaders spent hours hashing out the changes, the last round of which came yesterday.

Maryland Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, voted for the bill despite lingering concerns about some of its contents. Gilchrest, who was among a group of moderates who pressed Republican leaders to remove oil drilling provisions from the bill, said he believed the legislation would be improved by negotiations with the Senate.

"We're going to change a couple things," he said.

Other Republican moderates who had previously opposed the bill, including Reps. Sherwood Boehlert, of New York, and Delaware's Michael N. Castle, voted for it last night, saying the finished product was an improvement.

The rest of Maryland's delegation voted along party lines, with all six Democrats voting against the bill and the state's other Republican, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, supporting it.

Passage of the bill came only hours after a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans dealt Republican leaders an unusual and surprising setback by defeating a one-year $602 billion spending measure for social programs. The vote of 224-209 against the bill -- with 22 Republicans defecting -- left Democrats ebullient over their victory, and seemed to signal deep trouble for Republicans.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland said Democrats objected to the social-spending package that was defeated yesterday because it "substantially underfunds investments that we need to be making in America's future: education, health care, worker safety, things of that nature."

If the issue was "in fact [about] cutting deficits, one could argue persuasively that we need to balance the budget," said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. "But it's not. It's about cutting spending here, and then cutting taxes."

The measure, which provides funding over the next year for programs ranging from Medicaid to public schools, contained deep cuts or spending freezes in a number of areas.

In a rare departure, House and Senate negotiators had decided not to add any pet projects requested by individual lawmakers, known as earmarks, to the final bill. In recent years, those pork-barrel projects have fattened the cost of the measure by as much as $1 billion, but they also offered wavering members of both parties an incentive to vote for a package they might otherwise oppose.

The spending compromise, engineered by Republican leaders in an effort to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, drew sharp criticism from Democrats and some Republicans, who railed against the effect of the cuts for hitting disproportionately hard at the poor.

Yesterday's defeat of an appropriations bill, the first since September 1995, pointed up two developing trends on Capitol Hill - the growing disarray among Republicans and unusually strong cohesion among Democrats who, as Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia put it this week, "are getting some backbone and not helping the Republicans."

With President Bush falling to the lowest poll ratings of his presidency and both parties ratcheting up the rhetoric over the prologue to the war in Iraq and the handling of the conflict, Republican leaders have been forced to spend more and more time trying to quell revolts within their ranks.

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