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House kills Obama’s health care budget money

By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
February 19, 2011

President Barack Obama walks down the stairs of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on Friday to choke off cash to fund President Barack Obama‘s healthcare reform law, intensifying a fight with Democrats over budget cuts and deficits.

The House move against the 2010 healthcare law — one of Obama’s main legislative victories — is certain to be rejected by the Democratic-led Senate, but it has raised tensions over federal spending that could lead to a government shutdown.

Late on Friday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, noting the need to “avoid the calamitous effect of a government shutdown,” proposed legislation to continue current spending levels until March 31 from the March 4 deadline. That would give Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate more time to work out a compromise spending plan for the rest of the year.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, did not specifically reject the idea. But he told Reuters, “Americans are asking Congress to cut spending to help create a better environment for job creation, not lock in the massive ‘stimulus’ spending levels that have failed to produce the jobs that Democrats promised.”

On largely party-line votes, the House approved several amendments to deny funds to federal agencies to implement the healthcare overhaul, which Republicans deride as a costly government intrusion into the marketplace.

The House debate on the spending bill extended late into Friday with passage anticipated sometime on Saturday.

During late-night debate, the House voted to stop the Obama administration from enforcing new regulations on some types of coal mining and rolled back a gun control law aimed at individuals’ multiple purchases of rifles and shotguns.

The House also voted to overturn the Pentagon’s decision to close the Joint Forces Command facility in Virginia.

But it rejected Democratic attempts to cap farm subsidies and close a loophole so oil companies would have to pay up to $53 billion in royalties for drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

Financial markets are closely watching fights over spending, as Obama and Republicans position themselves for the 2012 presidential election, and Republicans flex their muscles after congressional election victories last year.

Political gridlock could cause a shutdown of government next month, and a separate showdown over whether to allow the United States to borrow more is also brewing.

The healthcare measures were part of a Republican-led bill that would cut spending for domestic programs by $61.5 billion through September to try to rein in the record U.S. budget deficit.

Democratic Representative Sander Levin said the risk of a federal shutdown was heightened by the Republicans’ healthcare amendment.

“Instead of searching for common ground, this amendment intensifies warfare,” Levin said. “The Republicans have become a wrecking crew.”

Republicans say the healthcare reform burdens doctors, insurers and employers with unnecessary costs and bureaucracy as the country is slowly recovering from a recession. The law is aimed at ensuring more Americans get medical insurance and provide consumer protections in the healthcare industry.

SLASH SPENDING

Polls show Americans sharply divided on the healthcare law. Republicans cite their election win last year to justify holding back healthcare law money.

In votes on other amendments on Friday, the House approved two more conservative initiatives sure to arouse opposition in the Senate.

One would save $363.2 million by denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a family planning agency that provides services for women, including abortion. There already is a prohibition against using federal funds for abortions, but the Republican amendment would hit other Planned Parenthood activities.

The second amendment would stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules related to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants.

Obama has outlined his own plan for less severe spending cuts in 2012 to shrink a deficit expected to be about $1.65 trillion this year, equivalent to 10.9 percent of the economy.

He has warned that tightening the belt too much too soon could harm the slow economic recovery.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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