The US Congress has sent President Barack Obama a Bill cutting about $US40 billion ($38 billion) from domestic programs and foreign aid, a skirmish in a broader war over the cash-strapped Government’s finances.
The Senate voted 81-19 to pass the measure after the House of Representatives approved it by a 260-167 margin, sending it to Mr Obama to sign into law and freeing polarised lawmakers to turn to other bitter spending feuds.
The White House highlighted how support from both its Democratic allies and Republican foes had ensured passage of the Bill, which funds the Government through to September 30, ahead of what may be far more divisive battles.
“There are tough challenges ahead, from growing our economy to reducing our deficit, but we must build on this bipartisan compromise to tackle these issues and meet the expectations of the American people,” said spokesman Jay Carney.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put the onus on Democrats, saying: “Now, everyone claims to see the crises we face – even those who’ve done so much to create them, and who’ve tried for too long to ignore them.”
Members of Congress turned to fights over long-term visions for how to steward the US economy and government finances, battles sure to shape Mr Obama’s 2012 re-election effort in the face of fired-up Republican opposition.
And they faced an already bitter debate over Mr Obama’s request to lift a cap on Washington’s ability to borrow money.
The Treasury Department thinks the Government will blow its debt limit by May 16. But if the ceiling is not raised by then, the Treasury could juggle payments, giving it until about July 8 before it runs out of cash.
In the House, Republican Speaker John Boehner needed Democratic votes to pass the spending Bill after suffering 59 Republican defections, many tied to the arch-conservative Tea Party movement seeking deeper cuts and inclined to view compromise with the White House as betrayal.
“Listen, this Bill is not perfect. No cause for celebration. This is just one step,” Mr Boehner said at a news conference before the vote, promising “there’s more to come”.
The spending compromise sliced deep into overseas food aid, the US State Department budget and environmental programs – including efforts to combat climate change – while boosting military spending.
Eighty-one Democrats voted for the Bill, showcasing a fragile political alliance that could smooth the way to approving an increase in the US “debt ceiling”, a step the Tea Party fiercely opposes.
“Our choice in this divided government is whether we will come together, work together and try to make the best possible agreement together,” said number-two House Democrat Steny Hoyer. “The American people expect us to do that.”
The House on Friday was expected to approve the budget.
On Wednesday, Mr Obama unveiled a drive to reduce US deficits by $US4 trillion over 12 years or less and savaged a Republican budget that would lower taxes on the richest Americans while slicing into health care for the poor and elderly.
“There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” he said, denouncing calls to cut clean energy, education and transportation.
Republican House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan, whose plan claims to cut $US4.4 trillion from the deficit over a decade, blasted Mr Obama’s message as a “political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief”.
Some Republicans fret privately that Mr Ryan’s plan – which calls for cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that offer health care to the elderly and the poor – could carry a huge political cost by driving away older voters.
But Mr Boehner has made clear his party stands with Mr Ryan, calling his blueprint “a plan to seize the next generation”.
The speaker and other senior Republican leaders have also said they cannot accept raising Washington’s ability to borrow above the current limit of $US14.3 trillion unless it is coupled to “significant” plans to cut spending.
After talks at the White House on Wednesday, Boehner told reporters Obama had indicated a willingness to sign a debt ceiling increase with conditions attached.
But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “we don’t have to attach anything” and that long-term reductions could come “separately”. Agencies