By Brian Faler
It was supposed to be a budget- cutting frenzy. House Republicans lined up to offer a series of amendments whacking away at a $51 billion spending bill that funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, and scores of other agencies.
One by one their proposals died, often at the hands of long-time Republican lawmakers joining forces with Democrats. By yesterday afternoon, only two budget-cutting amendments had been adopted, carving about $1.5 million from the bill.
"I was disappointed," said Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican whose proposal to cut funding for economic development grants was easily defeated. "This is a process where the House of Representative needs to lead. Nothing gets spent without the House of Representatives moving forward on it."
The legislative battle is the latest example of the clash between old-guard Republicans and a coalition of Tea Party- backed freshmen and other anti-spending members who chafe at their party's leadership on fiscal matters. They have fought over shutting down the government, raising the debt limit and, this week, on extending the lending authority of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Such tensions are spilling over into the congressional elections. This week Tea Party activists ended the 36-year career of Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican criticized in attack ads for negotiating with Democrats.
The most recent fight is over the first of a dozen spending bills to fund the government for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
'Not the Same'
"Every dollar is not the same," Virginia Republican Representative Frank Wolf lectured colleagues on May 8, urging them to reject a fellow Republican's bid to impose a 1 percent across-the-board cut.
The amendment was defeated, winning just 160 votes on the House floor, 156 from Republicans.
Also rejected was Arizona Representative Jeff Flake's proposal to cut $1.2 billion, or about 15 percent, from the National Science Foundation's budget. Flake complained that some of the projects in that budget included examining how rumors begin and whether those who play the Facebook game FarmVille tend to have more friends.
He said his proposal would roll back funding for the program to 2008 levels.
"Hardly the era of austerity," Flake said. "I don't remember music from the 'Grapes of Wrath' playing when we had the 2008 budget," referring to a book and movie based on it that depicted Depression-era poverty.
The two budget-cutting amendments adopted on the bill were sponsored by Republican freshmen. Representative Andy Harris of Maryland managed to cut $542,000 from the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina succeeded in trimming $1 million from the Justice Department's budget.
The other amendments didn't fare as well. A proposal to end the Legal Services Corp. by Representative Austin Scott, a freshman Republican from Georgia, won only 122 votes.
Pompeo's amendment to cut funding for the Economic Development Administration won the support of 129 lawmakers. He said there is some solace: his colleagues are learning about the program.
"We could lower taxes for everyone if we get rid of agencies like this," he said.
$1.6 Billion Less
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a 30- year veteran viewed with suspicion by many newcomers, acknowledged he is "somewhat surprised" more wasn't cut from the bill on the floor. He said the legislation contains $1.6 billion less in spending than this year's bill and funds many law enforcement programs backed by Republicans.
"Over the last three fiscal years, we will have cut this budget substantially," he said.
House Republicans will have another chance to make spending cuts today. They are set to consider a separate measure calling for more than $200 billion in cuts to food stamps and other programs to prevent automatic reductions in defense spending scheduled to start in 2013.
The House Republicans' internal divisions have empowered some in the chamber's Democratic minority.
A bill extending the lending authority of the Export-Import Bank, which provides loans for the foreign purchases of U.S. goods, passed in the House yesterday with support from 147 Republicans and 183 Democrats amid opposition from some Republicans who called the program little more than corporate welfare.
Likewise, it was Democrats who supplied the votes that ended the bids to cut spending. "This is where the bipartisan spirit kicks in," said Representative Tim Huelskamp, a freshman Republican from Kansas. "A bipartisan majority agrees that we don't need to cut."