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Spending Battle Faces Major Hurdles in House

Congress has until March 4th to come to an agreement on how to continue to fund the government, and that job could be difficult, especially for House Republican leaders who have lost two of the past three bill votes on the House floor since Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers, R-Ky., released a glimpse at what funding cuts could be made in a resolution that will fund the federal government until the end of September 2011. The full version will be available online Thursday evening.

Rogers outlines cuts to dozens of agencies, totaling a $74 billion reduction in what President Obama requested in last year’s budget, which was never enacted. Rogers announced proposed cuts to nuclear energy spending, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Institutes of Health, and other departments and programs.

“While making these cuts is hard, we have a unique opportunity to right our fiscal ship and begin to reduce our massive deficits and debt. We have taken a wire brush to the discretionary budget and scoured every program to find real savings that are responsible and justifiable to the American people,” Rogers said in statement.

But as Republicans prepare to bring a spending bill to the House floor, they are dealing with a possible revolt among some rank-and-file members. Because the vote was not considered controversial, Republican leaders brought a vote to extend some of the information-gathering provisions of the PATRIOT Act to the floor under a rule that required a two-thirds vote for approval. That vote failed by seven votes after 26 House Republicans voted against it, including eight freshmen members.

There was another miscalculated vote on the floor Wednesday when Republicans introduced a measure that would take back $179 million in money overpaid to the United Nations. (The vote is part of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “YouCut” program, where people can vote online for what they want to see cut). That vote also failed under the two-thirds rule, with the help of two New York Republicans who said the money was tied up in improving security for U.N. headquarters in New York City. 167 Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., brushed off the failed votes as evidence that the Republican leadership was committed to an “open process” that allowed members to speak their minds.

“We’re not running it in the heavy-handed dictatorial manner that was run in the past. This is an open process, an open opportunity to engage in the process where the outcome is not drawn up in a back room somewhere ,” Price told the NewsHour. “It ought to be exciting. it’s exciting to me, exciting to members, and I think it’s probably exciting to the American people.”

The dilemma now facing Republican leaders is how to come up with a bill that satisfies conservatives in their party who want a big cut in discretionary spending, but can also jive the Democratic majority in the Senate.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer had a more negative interpretation of the GOP’s challenge than Price did.

“Republican leaders have a real challenge, I think their party is divided,” Hoyer said Wednesday.

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