House rejects funding plan

$602 billion package covered health care, education spending

November 18, 2005|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON - In a rare and unexpected setback for Republican leaders, the House of Representatives soundly rejected a $602 billion spending package yesterday for education, health care and other social programs.

The unusual defeat of a major spending measure-the result of unanimous Democratic opposition and the defection of 22 Republicans - caught both parties off guard, left Democrats ebullient over their victory and added tomounting Republican problems in Congress. The votewas 224-209 against the measure.

That loss didn't stop Republicans from making a late-night push for a separate $50 billion deficit reduction package that had been held up for more than a week by opposition from moderate Republicans. A vote was expected after midnight.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Democrats objected to the social-spending package that was defeated yesterday because it "substantially underfunds investments thatwe need to be making inAmerica'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 porkbarrel projects have fattened the cost of the measure by asmuch 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 revoltswithin their ranks.

This week, the Senate approved a Republican-sponsored amendment that called on the White House to submit progress reports on the war every three months and to speed up the training of Iraq's security forces.

That move was forced on the Republicans by a Democratic proposal, which would have required a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. Antiwar criticism in Congress rose to a new, and significantly higher, level yesterday, when one of the most respected, pro-military members of the House, Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, to be completed within six months.

Meantime, Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe persuaded her Republican colleagues to reduce the size of a tax-cut package by threatening to oppose it. And a bipartisan group of senators balked at a tentative agreement to extend the Patriot Act, forcing a return to the negotiating table.

In the House, a simmering war between Republican factions - fiscal conservatives increasingly outraged over what they regard as runaway federal overspending and moderates loath to cut more sharply into social programs - has stalled business.

Republican moderates forced their party's House leaders last week to remove provisions from the $50 billion deficit-reduction package that would have permitted oil drilling off the Florida coast and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That angered conservative Republicans, however, and forced Republicans to keep pressing to gain the 218 votes they need to approve legislation without Democratic help.

There are 231 Republicans in the House, compared with 202 Democrats and one independent who usually votes with the Democrats.

About half of the Republicans who voted against the spending bill yesterday have balked at the separate deficit-reduction package of $50 billion in spending cuts. Those lawmakers include Reps. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania.

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