WASHINGTON – The House voted to cut a thin slice off federal deficits and sink oil drills into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge early Monday, quelling Democratic opposition in a marathon struggle ending near dawn.
The votes sent both bills to the Senate, where the GOP leadership vowed to clear them for President Bush’s signature with a year-end flourish.
Democrats were scathing. “As the Bible teaches us, to minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America’s children.”
The Alaska oil provision was grafted onto a $453 billion spending bill for the Pentagon, a measure that also reflected conservative priorities with a 1 percent spending cut across hundreds of federal programs. Yet the same legislation included an additional $29 billion in funding for victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as an extra installment of low-income heating assistance for the poor.
Overall, the deficit reduction bill claimed savings of $39.7 billion over five years, 2.5 percent of the $1.6 trillion in total red ink that congressional officials estimate will pile up for the same period.
The savings included $4.8 billion from Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, and one key provision is designed to make it harder for beneficiaries to transfer assets to their children in order to qualify for government-paid nursing home care.
Among the Medicare changes was a one-year freeze in home health-care payments. A second provision accelerates a previously scheduled increase for better off beneficiaries in the cost of premiums for Part B, which covers physician services.
At the same time, a House-passed attempt to curb food stamp spending and find savings from crop subsidies were dropped in final negotiations in a gesture to senators. Other savings contained had no relation to federal benefit programs that conservatives have long wanted to limit.
The bill assumed $10 billion in savings through the sale of a portion of the analog spectrum, and another $6.5 billion by reducing federal payments to insurance companies operating HMOs under the two-year-old Medicare law.
The drive to curb spending was blunted elsewhere, as well.
Doctors won the cancellation of a scheduled 4.6 percent cut in Medicare fees, at a cost to the Treasury of $7.3 billion over five years.
One concession restored a support program for dairy farmers, as requested by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., among others. The change erased $1.9 billion in estimated savings.
The Pentagon bill passed, on a lopsided vote of 308-106. Democrats were split as they were confronted with a choice of opposing money for the troops in Iraq or voting for ANWR drilling.
The defense bill also bans cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. Also included in the measure is a 3.1 percent military pay raise, a provision allowing an Iraq war veteran to adopt a bomb-sniffing dog named Rex, and language directing the president to submit quarterly reports to Congress on U.S. policy and military operations in Iraq.
The deficit reduction bill passed on a far closer tally of 212-206. No Democrats supported the bill and only nine Republicans opposed it.