Republicans send message on spending

Republicans will try to block money requested by the Obama administration to implement Democrats’ signature Wall Street and healthcare reforms in a stopgap spending measure expected to clear Congress next week.

The GOP is seizing on the administration’s funding request as an opportunity to send a message to voters that it wants to reduce government spending and provide a check on President Obama.

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“The Democrat leadership and the Obama administration once again appear to be hijacking a routine legislative measure to ram through billions in additional spending and political priorities just weeks before the election,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. “How many times do the American people have to say, ‘Enough is enough’ before these Democrat leaders start listening?”

The continuing resolution (CR) to allow the government to function beyond the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 is likely the last legislation lawmakers will send to the president before breaking for the campaign’s home stretch. The resolution is needed to avoid a government shutdown, because Congress hasn’t cleared any of the dozen appropriations bills for fiscal 2011.

The GOP push on the stopgap measure could be the first salvo in an appropriations war with the White House. GOP leaders have signaled they could slow or stall implementation of Democrats’ major reforms by refusing to fund them in appropriations bills after they make expected gains in the midterms.

The Obama administration has asked appropriators crafting the CR to include roughly $20 billion in new spending, according to GOP appropriators.

That request includes $250 million for doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other primary-care health workers. In asking appropriators for the money, the administration said the increase in health workforce funding is needed to meet the demands of the newly insured under the Democrats’ healthcare act.

The administration also requested $14 million for the Treasury Department so it can carry out the new Wall Street reforms.

Lewis and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) targeted that money Tuesday because it would fund a new Treasury post for Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor appointed by Obama to oversee the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. By appointing the outspoken Warren to a new position, the administration will avoid a confirmation fight in the Senate.

“Elizabeth Warren has not been confirmed by the Senate as the law states, yet the Obama White House is now asking [that] the American people foot the bill for the implementation of this flawed legislation without any accountability to Congress or the public,” Lewis said in a statement.

Other major items the administration requested include $5.7 billion to make up a Pell Grant shortfall, $1.9 billion for the administration’s Race to the Top school reform program and $624 million for programs related to the New START nuclear weapons treaty.

In addition for calling for a “clean” continuing resolution, House Republicans want the temporary spending levels returned to their 2008 levels.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a member of Senate GOP leadership, said he’d prefer changing the healthcare law altogether, but short of that, holding up funding is another option.

“If the question is whether to approve money to fund certain parts of the healthcare law, that’s certainly one way to try to limit its impact,” he said.

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Senate Republicans haven’t been as hawkish on the continuing resolution; they haven’t ruled out additional provisions.

“Our goal is to keep a continuing resolution as clean as possible at a low number, so we keep spending under control,” Alexander said.

Democrats are still crafting the stopgap measure. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who is expected to move the resolution before the House acts, told The Hill he has yet to decide on whether to include the administration’s provisions.

The House could begin its recess at the end of next week. The Senate is expected to leave Washington after Oct. 8.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blamed Republicans for the need to resort to a stopgap spending measure in the first place.

“I’d much prefer doing individual bills, but with the Republicans blocking everything, that’s hard to do,” Leahy said.

With the continuing resolution being the final legislative vehicle before the election, senators have floated attaching other legislation to it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Tuesday that debate over the resolution could feature amendments to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

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