House passes government funding bill

The House has approved a bipartisan plan to fund the government for the rest of year, the first step in sealing the deal that averted a government shutdown.

The Thursday vote, 260-167, put a bright spotlight on the divisions within the Republican conference between those who wanted to push for more dramatic reductions in spending and those willing to sign on to a compromise forged last week.

As was the case in a previous vote on a temporary spending plan, Democratic votes were needed to push the legislation through. The vote was held open beyond the allotted time as lawmakers eyed the potential outcome before casting a politics-infused vote.

The bill would make cuts of nearly $38 billion from the 2011 spending plan, $23 billion less than House Republicans had sought.

It comes with several measures intended to sweeten the deal for conservatives, including follow-up votes on measures that would defund the new healthcare law and block federal money from going to Planned Parenthood.

Still, 59 Republicans voted against the bill, as did 108 Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner, who negotiated the deal with Senate Democrats and the White House, made his final pitch Thursday afternoon.

"Does it cut enough? No," Boehner said on the House floor. "Is it perfect? No. I'd be the first one to admit that it's flawed. Well, welcome to divided government."

The bill now moves to the Senate, which is expected to take it up later Thursday.

The vote was an agonizing one for many lawmakers – particularly the 87 GOP freshmen – who made slashing federal spending the cornerstone of their campaigns. Some said they were struggling with how to vote right up to last hour.

Complicating the decision, an independent analysis released Wednesday indicated that the bill's immediate impact on the amount the government will spend in 2011 would be minimal. Much of the $38 billion in reductions would come over time or from standing accounts.

Boehner and other House leaders scrambled to explain the report's finding, hoping to stave off a backlash from conservatives labeling the deal a gimmick.

"I just think it's total nonsense," Boehner said. "A cut is a cut."

The vote comes on the 100th day of Republican control of the House, and several lawmakers celebrated the GOP's success in shifting the conversation to shrinking the size and scope of federal services.

One newcomer, though, explained the pressures leading to a vote against his party leadership.

"I think this was positive step, it just didn't go far enough fast enough," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a freshman Republican from Michigan. Huizenga held two telephone town halls this week to gauge opinion in his district and views were split, he said. But the overwhelming message was to roll back federal spending.  

"Michigan has just been hammered over the last 10 years and people are expecting -- just like they've seen their family income and family budgets adjust dramatically and they've seen their employer's budget adjust dramatically -- they're expecting the same thing out of government," he said. 

The bill includes a $500-million reduction in funding for the federal health and nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC. The Environmental Protection Agency will see a 16% reduction from current spending levels. Community health centers will lose $600 million.

But the budget agreement includes several provisions not aimed at deficit reduction. It removes gray wolves from the endangered species list and eliminates funding for four Obama administration policy "czars." The bill reinstates a school voucher program in Washington, D.C., and specifically prohibits local government dollars in the District of Columbia from paying for abortions.

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