Republicans retake US House, target expenses

Last Updated: Thursday, January 6, 2011 - 09:13

Washington: A day after retaking the House of Representatives, US Republicans moved on Thursday to make good on a campaign vow to slash spending with a mostly symbolic vote to cut lawmakers` office budgets.

President Barack Obama`s Democrats were expected to join Republicans to pass a bill to slice five percent from House expenses, a USD 35 million drop in the roughly USD 3.6 trillion bucket of annual US government outlays.

Republicans also planned to read aloud from the US Constitution -- but omit sections later amended, such as the original language defining black slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning congressional seats.

The symbolic moves aimed to please arch-conservative "Tea Party" activists who powered Republicans to regain control of the House of Representatives and slice deep into the Democratic Senate majority in November 02 elections.

Republicans aimed to set the tone ahead of Obama`s annual "State of the Union" expected on January 25, a high-profile chance to retool his presidency in the wake of what he has called a ballot-box "shellacking”.

Washington: A day after retaking the House of Representatives, US Republicans moved on Thursday to make good on a campaign vow to slash spending with a mostly symbolic vote to cut lawmakers` office budgets.

President Barack Obama`s Democrats were expected to join Republicans to pass a bill to slice five percent from House expenses, a USD 35 million drop in the roughly USD 3.6 trillion bucket of annual US government outlays.

Republicans also planned to read aloud from the US Constitution -- but omit sections later amended, such as the original language defining black slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning congressional seats.

The symbolic moves aimed to please arch-conservative "Tea Party" activists who powered Republicans to regain control of the House of Representatives and slice deep into the Democratic Senate majority in November 02 elections.

Republicans aimed to set the tone ahead of Obama`s annual "State of the Union" expected on January 25, a high-profile chance to retool his presidency in the wake of what he has called a ballot-box "shellacking”.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged Obama by telephone on Wednesday to unveil new plans for spending cuts including a ban on pet project "earmarks" and sweeping tax code reforms and said Republicans were "hopeful that we can work together”.

As a tense new era of power-sharing dawned in Washington, newly minted Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned lawmakers they faced "great challenges" as his party readied a fresh assault on Obama`s agenda with an eye on thwarting his 2012 reelection bid.

"Hard work and tough decisions will be required" at a time when the US economy is struggling to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Boehner said in his inaugural address.

The Ohio lawmaker choked back tears and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief as he took his new office`s symbolic gavel from Nancy Pelosi, the first woman US speaker and now Democratic minority leader.

Fired-up Republicans also enjoyed a stronger Senate minority thanks to a pack of new conservative members who won office on November 02, when voters angry at the sputtering US economy and high unemployment routed Democrats.

Republicans have vowed to slash spending, scrap "job-killing" government regulations, overhaul the tax code, crack down on undocumented immigration, cut diplomatic and foreign aid funds, and investigate the administration.

And Republicans set a January 12 vote on repealing Obama`s signature overhaul of US health care -- a purely symbolic step because the Democratic Senate majority can block it and the President can veto it.

Senate Democrats, captained by Majority Leader Harry Reid, planned to push ahead with changes that complicate the minority party`s efforts to kill legislation by delaying it or to anonymously block key nominees.

And they warned Republicans would have to break their lockstep opposition to White House-backed initiatives over the past two years in favor of bipartisan compromise in order to deliver on their campaign pledges.

"We have to do even more to help middle-class families, to create jobs, to hasten our energy independence, to improve our children`s education and to fix our broken immigration system," Reid said.

At the White House, Obama held the traditional post-transition telephone call with Pelosi and Cantor and press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped that the President hoped for a round of golf with Boehner, an avid player.

Gibbs also warned House Republicans against using their newfound powers to investigate the administration to engage in "partisan, ideological, political witch hunts”.

Obama was also re-jigging his inner circle, as Gibbs announced he was leaving amid talk that Clinton-era commerce secretary William Daley, a free-trade champion, could step in as the new White House chief of staff.

The President was also expected to soon name a new chief for his National Economic Council following the departure of Lawrence Summers last year.

Some observers said Obama would seek the political center, knowing that his 2012 reelection hopes may rest with independent voters who could be alienated if Republicans appease the radical right.

Republicans, meanwhile, signaled they were pulling back from a campaign pledge to find USD 100 billion in savings their first year, saying the actual figure would run closer to half that amount.

Bureau Report



First Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 - 09:13

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