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In a highly partisan vote, the House passed 256 to 165 a nonbinding measure to block additional government spending and reduce the federal budget to pre-stimulus 2008 levels.
The bill also would give Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, the authority to set spending limits on non-security discretionary items within the federal budget -- a controversial provision strongly criticized by Democrats.
The vote, largely seen as a symbolic gesture by House Republicans to demonstrate their conviction to trim government spending, came just hours before the president's State of the Union address in which he is expected to call for increased government investment in research and infrastructure.
Citing that proposal, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference on Tuedsay morning, "I'm hopeful that the word 'investment' really isn't more 'stimulus' spending and a bigger government here in Washington."
House Democrats strenuously objected to the authority the bill would give Ryan. Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during a news conference before the vote: "The Founding Fathers did not contemplate one person out of 435 setting policy for the country."
Hoyer also cited with what he characterized as the vagueness of the measure, a theme echoed by Democrats during debate on the House floor. They repeatedly called for "a number" that would give them direction as to how much Republicans would seek to trim from the budget.
"There is no figure in this resolution," Hoyer said at the news conference. "When members of the House vote on this resolution, they will be voting blind. They will have no idea what figure Mr. Ryan will plug in. They talk about [reducing spending to 2008 levels]; some talk about reducing it to 2006 [levels], perhaps others talk about some other figure as well."
Republicans initially said they would follow through with a 2010 campaign promise to trim $100 billion from the federal budget during the first few weeks of the 112th Congress. But, members seemed to back away from that figure, deeming the steep cuts it would require too extreme and suggesting a lesser cut of $60 billion instead.
In recent days, however, newly elected conservative tea party members of the Republican caucus increased pressure on party leaders to follow through with the $100 billion figure. This faction was led by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and 89 of the 176 members of the Republican Study Committee.
For their part, Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia would not specify a target number and instead deferred to Congress, saying the "House would work its will" in determining the figure. Boehner added, "Gone are the days of the leadership dictating to the members the outcome of what the House does every day. I'm fully prepared to allow all members to offer their amendments. And again, let's let the House work its will."
The flurry of action sets the stage for a budgetary showdown in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, Cantor announced that the House would take up the continuing resolution -- one that funds the federal government through fiscal year 2011 -- the week of February 14 (the present continuing resolution expires on March 4). The same week, the White House is set to release a proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.
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