WASHINGTON – In a deepening struggle over spending, Republicans and Democrats swapped charges Thursday over a possible government shutdown when money runs out March 4 for most federal agencies.
“Read my lips: We’re going to cut spending,” declared House Speaker John Boehner. He pledged that the GOP-controlled House would refuse to approve even a short-term measure at current funding levels to keep the government operating.
The Ohio Republican prefaced his remarks by accusing Democrats of risking a shutdown “rather than to cut spending and to follow the will of the American people.”
But moments later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., retorted that Boehner was resorting “to threats of a shutdown without any negotiation.” Officials added that Democrats would seek a short-term bill without any cut in spending levels, a position sharply at odds with Boehner’s.
The sparring occurred as the House labored to complete work on veto-threatened legislation to cut more than $61 billion from the current budget year – already more than a third over. That bill also would provide funding to keep the government operating until Sept. 30.
Working through dozens of amendments, the House voted 244-181 in the early evening to block the FCC from implementing “network neutrality” regulations. The rules prohibit phone and cable companies from discriminating against Internet content and services, including online calling and Web video services that may compete with their core operations.
With that one bill at the center of a political dispute – the House has repeatedly worked well past midnight on the legislation this week – Boehner chose the moment to open a second front. To underscore the budget-cutting commitment by the 87 conservative new members of his rank and file, he announced that Republicans would move quickly this spring on companion legislation to cut “wasteful mandatory spending” by the federal government.
He provided no details, but party officials said they expected the effort to begin shortly after the House returns from next week’s recess.
The current legislation is sweeping in scope, containing cuts to literally hundreds of domestic programs, from education to environmental protection, nutrition and parks.
In addition, it has become a target for first-term conservative Republicans eager to demonstrate their budget-cutting bona fides and for other lawmakers hoping to change the course of government in ways large or small.
Among the proposals yet to be voted on was an attempt to block the use of funds to implement the year-old health care law.