From family planning to biofuels, Democrats & Republicans battle over GOP budget bill
By Jon H. Harsch
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 - Spirited House floor debate continued into Wednesday night on the Republicans' Continuing Resolution (CR) HR 1 to cut federal spending by $61 billion from current funding levels for the 2011 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Even though some 500 amendments remain, Republican leaders hope to complete debate and pass the measure Thursday. The CR is needed to replace the current CR which expires March 4.
Wednesday's second day of debate covered issues ranging from defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and delisting the grey wolf, to ethanol and family planning programs. Some votes showed the strength of Tea Party sentiment. The House voted 233-198 to scrap the Joint Strike Fighter extra engine, saving $450 million - despite House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, supporting the engine.
Saying that farmer and biofuels groups are up in arms over the CR, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, charged that stripping powers from the EPA “would pull the rug from farmers and refiners all across the country.” Before the chair ruled his amendment out of order, he called on the House to “oppose this flawed funding language and support my amendment to ensure the Renewable Fuels Standard is allowed to move forward.” He warned the CR would “increase our dependence on foreign oil and move us backward not forward in the important area of bioenergy.”
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, called Braley's concerns “fictitious.” He insisted that while the CR would block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, this prohibition would apply only to “stationary sources.” He said that “reports that this provision will also block EPA from setting standards for the 2012 Renewable Fuels Standard are totally unfounded.” He said the CR provision “is narrowly focused on EPA's new stationary source permitting authority and does not affect EPA's renewable fuels program.”
Echoing the deeper-cuts-needed position backed by other freshman Republicans, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., said that passing the spending-cut CR “is about preserving the greatness of America.” She said that as a small businesswoman herself, she sees the country “on the edge of bankruptcy.” She said tough choices must be made to deal with “government spending and burdensome regulations.”
Freshman Michael Pompeo, R-Kan., won a 299-185 vote in favor of cutting $8.46 million from the EPA Greenhouse Gas Registry - even after Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, said the Appropriations Committee opposed Pompeo's amendment, saying it would create problems for private industry. Similarly, freshman Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY, won a 228-203 vote to cancel EPA support for a sewer project in Tijuana, Mexico - again despite LaTourette arguing against the amendment as unneeded.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that “If our country continues on a course of fiscal irresponsibility, and continues to pile debt on our children, we will all feel the consequences, no matter our party. It is vital that our two parties work together to put our fiscal house in order.” But he then said that the Republicans' CR cuts “are short-sighted and indiscriminate. Even as they fail to change our long-term fiscal picture for the better, these cuts recklessly damage programs essential to America’s competitive edge.”
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., charged that “the Republicans want to pass a bill that will make it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment. There is no fiscal reason for this. This is just an assault on clean air.” He and other Democrats charged that cutting back EPA's authority to enforce Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act rules would result in escalating illnesses, sick days, healthcare costs, and deaths.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., charged the Republican CR would mean “cutting hundreds of millions of dollars to help our nation's poorest families heat their homes while continuing billions in taxpayer subsidies we send to big oil companies.” Instead of cutting heating assistance to the poor, he proposed an amendment to “reduce the deficit by repealing these $40 billion in tax breaks for big oil.” He said “Oil companies don't need the100-year-old tax breaks to sell $100 per barrel oil while making $100 billion per year.”
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