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Hard-Won Budget Votes Presage More Battles


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Members of Congress wrapped up their work on spending and taxes today. Just after midnight, the Senate approved the $60 billion package of tax cuts, and a few hours after that, the House narrowly approved a package of some $50 billion in spending cuts. But House Republicans put off action on their tax cut proposal until December. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

It was the wee hours of the morning, and Democrats and Republicans hurled invectives at each other as they debated $59.6 billion in spending cuts. Republicans, led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, said Democrats were playing politics while they did the work.

Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Speaker of the House): The American people expect us to do what is right. The American people don't want all this platitudes of moral indignity. They want us to go to work. They want us to do our job. They want us to provide a better life for themselves and their children, and this majority will do it. It is our responsibility

NAYLOR: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the reductions were, in her words, `a shame and a sham' because they would be canceled out by future tax cuts.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (House Minority Leader): This is not a values-based budget. It is not worthy of our support. I urge my colleagues to reject this resolution that will increase our swollen budget deficit by another $20 billion, hurt our most vulnerable citizens and the middle class.

NAYLOR: Republicans argue they were making only modest cuts in the growth of spending. For instance, Medicaid would grow at a 7 percent rate rather than 7.3 percent. But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that reduction is still likely to mean fewer low-income children will receive health care, and that hundreds of thousands of low-income families would lose their eligibility for food stamps. But Republican leaders gathered just enough support from moderates, who had been resisting the cuts, to prevail on a 217-to-215 vote, every Democrat voting no.

By the light of the day, Democrats were still angry. James McGovern of Massachusetts said Republicans, in his words, `don't know what the hell they're doing.'

Representative JAMES McGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): You know, early this morning they passed a bill that they said was about deficit reduction. What it really was about was cutting programs to benefit the most vulnerable. This was an all-out attack on poor people, and quite frankly it's a disgrace. And today they want to bring up a tax cut that's going to add to the deficit, that's going to add to our debt, and they're going to do it with a straight face and hope that nobody notices.

NAYLOR: But after several hours of deliberations and vote counting, Republican leaders decided not to go forward with the $56 billion tax cut package, which would extend cuts on capital gains and investments set to expire at the end of 2008. Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt said it was out of sympathy to his colleague.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Acting House Majority Leader): I don't think the members are ready to stay here till 2 in the morning another day, and we'll do this when we get back.

NAYLOR: But Republicans were also wary of setting themselves up for the inevitable charges by Democrats that they were cutting spending on program benefiting the poor one moment and extending tax breaks benefiting the wealthy the next. Better to wait till next month. At that point, House GOP leaders promised they'll take up the tax cut extension measure, but their work will be cut out for them. The Senate tax cut package is much different than the House's and the Senate's spending cuts are much smaller, and finding common ground won't be easy. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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