This was a vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and prohibiting amendments to legislation funding federal government programs and agencies through September 2011, and cutting $39 billion from federal programs, including financial aid for low-income college students attending summer semesters, funding for high-speed rail travel, and foreign aid.
The underlying bill—known as a “continuing resolution,” or “CR”—represented an agreement on federal government spending negotiated between President Obama, Senate Democrats (who held a majority), and House Republicans (who were the majority party in that chamber). House Republicans had initially demanded more than $60 billion in spending cuts, as well as a number of “policy riders”—prohibitions on government funding for certain policies. For example, the House Republican leadership had initially insisted on banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood—which provides a wide array of health services for women, including breast cancer screenings, pap smears, and abortions. Democrats refused to agree to this provision, and the Planned Parenthood funding prohibition was not included in the final agreement.
Senate Democrats did agree, however, to hold an up-or-down vote on banning federal funding for the organization at a later date. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also agreed to hold an up-or-down vote on repealing the landmark 2010 health care reform law that was strongly supported by President Obama. Specifically, this resolution allowed the House to bring up the CR, as well as two separate bills eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the 2010 health care reform law. As part of the budget agreement, the Senate would vote on all three measures.
According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration had managed to preserve funding for many programs through “budget tricks.” Specifically, the underlying bill eliminated funding that had been allocated for programs in the previous year, but had never been spent. The AP’s Andrew Taylor reported: “The historic $38 billion in budget cuts resulting from at-times hostile bargaining between Congress and the Obama White House were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years… Such moves permitted Obama to save favorite programs - Pell grants for poor college students, health research and "Race to the Top" aid for public schools, among others - from Republican knives, according to new details of the legislation released Tuesday morning.”
While the budget agreement also eliminated summer semester Pell Grants for low-income college students, it preserved the full grant ($5,500) for the regular school year despite Republican efforts to reduce the overall award.
Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) urged support for the resolution and the underlying bill: “We all profess that we want to cut back on the deficit for the year and for the ensuing years. The deficit this year, $1.4 trillion in just 1 year, the largest in history, adding to a debt that exceeds all of our fears of some $14.2 or $14.3 trillion. We all say, let's cut back on spending. Here is your chance. Here is your opportunity. If you profess to be a fiscally responsible member of this House, you have a chance, yea, an obligation, to vote for this bill and support it. It's historic. We've never been here before. We've reached a pinnacle and a great opportunity for us to show to the rest of the country that we're serious about controlling the free-spending nature of this body. This is your chance. Don't miss it.”
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) criticized the resolution and the underlying bill: “What we're doing in this continuing resolution is increasing the favorite government spending of the majority party, running up the deficit, continuing big tax cuts for special interests while slashing the effort to educate our children, ensure access to health care, keep our air and water clean…We can do better, we must do better. To save America from bankruptcy, we must do better than sound and fury signifying nothing. We need to work together to make the cuts we need to make, to increase the revenues we need to increase, and to examine our entitlement programs to put our nation on proper fiscal footing for the next generation and remove the mounting burden of debt that faces the next generation of Americans.”
The House agreed to this resolution by a vote of 241-179. All 236 Republicans present and 5 Democrats voted “yea.” 179 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to formal floor debate on legislation funding federal government programs and agencies through September 2011, and cutting $39 billion from federal programs, including financial aid for low-income college students attending summer semesters, funding for high-speed rail travel, and foreign aid.