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Republicans split, but House approves stopgap budget bill

The measure would cut $6 billion and stave off a government shutdown for three more weeks. Many Republicans vote against it, however, saying key policy objectives were ignored.

March 15, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — — The GOP-led House approved a short-term spending bill Tuesday but only after dozens of Republicans rejected the measure, forcing party leaders to rely on Democrats to achieve passage and help skirt a threatened government shutdown.

The vote showed the mounting difficulty of resolving a budget stalemate that has consumed Washington for weeks. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill before Friday, when government funding to keep agencies operating runs out. But similar resistance from conservatives is expected in that chamber.

With House conservatives opposing their party's stopgap proposal as inadequate, the vote also signals trouble ahead for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) as he negotiates a long-term deal with Democrats on behalf of a deeply split Republican caucus.

The White House, meanwhile, said it was time to resolve the budget impasse "in a sensible way."

Talks continue behind the scenes on a compromise that would keep the government running through the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

As the two sides struggle, public opinion surveys have not given a decided advantage to either camp. Voters oppose a possible disruption of government services and would tend to blame Republicans more than Democrats. Yet surveys also show that many Americans credit congressional Republicans with taking a greater leadership role on the issue than President Obama.

At the same time, Americans continue to trust the president more than Republicans in Congress to handle economic matters, according to one of the surveys, by the Washington Post and ABC News.

Boehner acknowledged the push-back from within his ranks, but said the GOP would have an additional opportunity to rein in deficits during the upcoming debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling.

The House voted 271 to 158 on the stopgap measure that would cut $6 billion over the next three weeks, largely by eliminating programs Obama had already identified for termination or reduction, as well as specially earmarked congressional projects.

Coupled with a temporary budget extension that the president signed March 2, Congress would have cut $10 billion in less than a month.

Still, 54 Republicans broke ranks to vote no Tuesday, saying the latest bill represented a timid version of the House-passed measure to cut more than $60 billion for the rest of the fiscal year. Only six House Republicans opposed the previous temporary budget extension.

The GOP defectors this time were mostly veteran conservatives who aligned with more than 20 conservative freshmen.

They were particularly upset that top policy priorities had been dropped from the bill. Shelved for now are attempts to defund the healthcare overhaul law enacted last year, gut Planned Parenthood and eliminate the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The time has come to take a stand," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Conservative groups have been pressuring rank-and-file members to oppose the bill.

Still, about three-fourths of the GOP freshman class that took office in January voted in favor of the legislation, heeding leaders' call for unity and saying that the $6 billion in cuts is not insubstantial.

"It's not enough — but it is a step in the right direction," said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), whom the freshman class elected president of its caucus.

Democrats also split over the temporary measure, with 85 in support and 104 opposed. They remained reluctant to support cutting spending at the GOP-preferred rate of $2 billion a week. Reductions of such a magnitude, they say, are preventing the government from operating efficiently and could imperil the economic recovery.

Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) likened the stopgap approach to "lurching back and forth like a drunken sailor."

"Actually, I take that back, because the Navy would never conduct operations like this," he said.

Michael A. Memoli of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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