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House nixes Owens bill to rescue military's pay

TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WASHINGTON — The House cast aside a proposal by Rep. William L. Owens Thursday to rescue military pay in the event of a government shutdown, as Republicans insisted on linking that issue to budget cuts in other areas.


Mr. Owens's measure, offered as a Democratic alternative to the GOP's one-week spending extension, fell on a party-line vote. One Republican, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., supported it.


The Republican measure passed the House easily, although Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and most Democrats voted against it. It cuts $12 billion and funds the Defense Department through the end of the fiscal year, removing the possibility that defense employees and soldiers would be affected by a shutdown.


In the Senate, Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the one-week extension a non-starter and said he opposes yet another short-term measure to keep the government running — though he indicated an openness to what he called a "clean" measure. The White House took a similar stance.


Democrats criticized the measure for targeting low income home heating assistance and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, as well as high-speed rail projects. They noted that it actually cuts total only $6 billion because it increases defense spending by $7 billion.


Republicans blamed Democrats for setting up the situation by failing to pass any spending measures last year when they had majorities in the House and Senate. A top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bill C.W. Young, R-Fla., told reporters he was frustrated by Congress's inability to conduct business in the usual way — passing bills in each chamber, then reaching a compromise in a House-Senate conference committee.


As the budget stalemate continued Thursday, Mr. Owens said he couldn't tell from his position whether negotiations were yielding real progress or just providing a forum for political posturing. But Senate Democratic leaders, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested earlier in the day that talks had generated considerable compromise.


Yet a deal remained held up by GOP opposition to two policy issues — federal funding for abortion, and regulation of greenhouse gases, Mr. Schumer and other Senate Democrats said.


At a midday news conference, Mr. Schumer said negotiators had reached the basics of an agreement and needed only for House Speaker Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to agree to leave out those policy issues. But those issues are important to tea party backed House conservatives who face pressure not to make compromises, and whose votes Mr. Boehner risks losing.


Mr. Owens said that even if a small difference remains on total spending, it could be resolved through a small across-the-board cut to federal programs. A difference of $7 billion, as was reported Thursday morning, could be closed with a broad cut of less than one percent across agencies, he said.


"There is a way to cut spending in a fiscally responsible way and grow jobs at the same time, but it's going to take both parties working together for the American people to get the job done," Mr. Owens said in a press release. "Many of my constituents have told me that they understand the need to cut spending and are prepared to share the pain, but current proposals will stifle job growth and the economy of Upstate New York."


In an interview, he also expressed concern about "ideological" riders that many Republicans insist on including. Those issues, he said, can wait until the fiscal 2012 budget, when Congress will have time to air them out in hearings.

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