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House Reads Constitution, Trims Budgets as GOP Targets Health Reform

January 6, 2011 at 4:45 PM EDT
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A busy second day of the 112th Congress began with a reading of the Constitution on the House floor. Though some Democrats joined in the reading, the parties sparred over the deficit with Democrats' asserting that budget-cut exemptions could add to the shortfall and Republicans pledging to overturn the health care reform law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was a busy second day for the new Congress, beginning with a symbolic gesture in the House.

It was a first on the floor of the House. The new Republican majority had the U.S. Constitution read aloud, in a nod to Tea Party supporters, reaffirming a commitment to founding principles.

House Speaker John Boehner began, reciting the document’s preamble.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), speaker of the House: We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats joined in…

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.), House minority leader: Article 1, Section 1.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … and although some had wanted to read the Constitution as originally ratified, to show how it changed over the years.

Those changes included the 13th Amendment, recited by former civil rights leader and Georgia Democrat John Lewis.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The proceeding was interrupted at one point, as New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone was reading the section on presidential qualifications.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D-N.J.): No person, except a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to be — the office of president. Neither shall…



JUDY WOODRUFF: A visitor had yelled that President Obama didn’t meet the requirement. It was a reference to claims he was actually born abroad, despite his birth certificate from Hawaii.

In the end, it took 84 minutes to read the seven articles and 27 amendments, with the parties taking turns.


JUDY WOODRUFF: The two sides also joined to slash the operating budgets of House offices and committees by 5 percent, or $35 million. It passed easily, 410-13.

But partisan divisions returned over talk of more sweeping spending cuts. Senate Democrats accused House Republicans of exempting more than $1 trillion dollars in costs over the next decade from their pledge to reduce the federal deficit.

New York’s Chuck Schumer:

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): The new Republican Congress looks a whole lot like the last Republican Congress, that doubled the national debt and turned Bill Clinton’s surpluses into record deficits.

Republicans said they learned their lesson and would get serious about deficits this time, but this $1 trillion cost to the deficit in the very first week makes you just shake your head and say, there they go again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats were emboldened by a new projection by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It found repealing the health care law would cost in the vicinity of $230 billion over the next 10 years.

That contrasted with a report issued by Speaker Boehner’s office that said the health care law would add $701 billion to the deficit. Boehner argued, that’s why Republicans don’t see any reason to account for the cost of repeal.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: If you believe that repealing Obamacare is going to raise the deficit, then — then you would have to have some way to offset that spending. But I don’t think anybody in this town believes that repealing Obamacare is going to increase the deficit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Health care repeal also dominated a House Rules Committee meeting.

Republican Steve King of Iowa said, Congress needs to start from scratch.

REP. STEVE KING (R-IA): I suggest that we pull Obamacare out by the roots, root and branch, lock, stock and barrel, eradicate it completely, and leave not one vestige of its DNA left behind, because it is a malignant tumor into the spirit of America’s vitality and constitutionality.

And if it’s allowed to have any particle left, it will regrow again, and it will metastasize — metastasize like a tumor, and grow back, and it will consume the liberty and the vigor of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern argued the repeal effort reneges on GOP promises to cut the deficit and make government more transparent.

REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-Mass.): The campaign’s all about reducing deficits and lowering the debt, and yet we have a preliminary CBO score that says this is going to cost a great deal of money to repeal. But that doesn’t matter — and no hearings, no hearings, no — there’s no — this is not a very — this is not a thoughtful process.

And then you’re all telling me that you want to close rule, bring it to the floor, no amendments, no input. So much for the open process. There’s none.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The full House is slated to vote on the rule for debating health care repeal tomorrow. The repeal vote itself is set for next Wednesday, but Democrats in the Senate have pledged to turn back the effort.