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House overcomes Tea Party opposition to pass short-term spending bill

John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2011. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET with statement from the White House

Following a debate in which Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the nation's out-of-whack balance sheets, the House today passed a bill to keep the federal government funded for another three weeks while cutting $6 billion from this year's budget.

The bill's passage came in spite of dissent from Tea Party Republicans who said they could not support piecemeal spending cuts. Additionally, they objected to another spending measure that did not revoke funding they find objectionable, such as funding for Planned Parenthood or President Obama's health care reforms. Fifty-four Republicans voted against the measure today, as well as 104 Democrats.

Once the bill passes in the Senate -- where both Democratic and Republican leaders have expressed interest in advancing the measure -- it will keep the government running until April 8. At that point, Congress will have to pass yet another "continuing resolution" to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year beyond that.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), like many other Republicans on the House floor today, excoriated Democrats for failing to pass a full 2011 budget last year, thus setting in motion the struggle over short-term spending measures.

"I will tell you the outrage here is that we are having to do this because the majority, the former majority, when they had the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate, and the White House, failed to pass an appropriation bill," he said. "They left the American people and this country with this pile of crap."

Democratic Rep. Mark Critz (Penn.) remarked that Republicans have also so far failed to find a workable budget solution.

"This isn't leading. This is playing games," he said. "It's time to stand up and do the right thing for this country."

The Republican-led House did, in fact, manage to pass last month a budget bill for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year that cut a historic $61 billion. However, that bill soundly failed in the Senate, where Democrats objected to the sweeping cuts.

The $6 billion in spending cuts in the bill passed today are largely taken from the president's budget request and the Senate Democrats' own proposal that failed last week in the Senate. The cuts include $3.5 billion from 25 programs, including $50 million taken from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. National park programs and unused Census money are also on the chopping block. The remaining $2.5 billion is cut by eliminating funding for past earmarks. (Take a look at the full list of cuts here.)

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio today railed against Republicans for ignoring potential tax revenues from big banks or companies like BP. "You can't balance a trillion dollar deficit on 14 percent of the budget," she said. "Let's take it from those who have much and give nothing.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said today she could neither endorse nor rise in opposition to the bill because it is "necessary to proceed" to keep the government operating.

She added that the federal budget should be "a reflection of our national values."

While several Republicans opposed today's bill, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) reminded his colleagues that with this piece of legislation, Congress will have cut over $10 billion from the budget in just two weeks.

"The American people sent us here with a clear message last November," he said, in support of the legislation. "They want us to end the partisan bickering and get the work done."

Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement saying today's vote "gives Congress some breathing room to find consensus on a long-term measure."

"The President urges the Senate to pass this bill to avoid a government shutdown that would be harmful to our economic recovery," Carney said. "But the President has been clear: with the wide range of issues facing our nation, we cannot keep funding the government in two or three week increments. It is time for us to come together, find common ground and resolve this issue in a sensible way."

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