Fight Over Spending Is Just Beginning in Washington
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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
A week ago, the United States government was preparing to suspend some of its operations for lack of a budget. But late last Friday, negotiators reached a deal. This Thursday, both houses of Congress approved it and sent it to President Obama to sign into law.
SOUND: "On this vote, the yeas are eighty-one, the nays are nineteen. The bill is passed."
That was the vote in the Senate. The measure provides money through the end of the budget year in September. It cuts more than thirty-eight billion dollars in non-defense spending. Negotiators cut more than most Democratic Party lawmakers wanted, but less than most Republicans wanted.
Fifty-nine Republicans in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted against the deal. Many were elected last November with support from the conservative Tea Party coalition. House Speaker John Boehner said the bill is not perfect, but a good start.
On Friday, Republicans in the House passed a plan by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. The plan aims for six trillion dollars in savings over ten years, starting in twenty-twelve. But the plan faces strong opposition in the Senate, where Democrats are in control.
President Obama condemned the Republican plan earlier this week. Instead he called for four trillion dollars in government spending cuts and higher taxes for wealthy Americans over twelve years.
A major part of the Ryan plan would change Medicare from a program that directly pays medical bills for retired people. Instead, people would get money to buy health insurance from private companies.
The idea is that competition would save money. But Democrats say the plan would increase costs for older adults and end the forty-six-year-old Medicare program as it now exists. The Ryan plan would also reduce money for Medicaid, a joint federal and state health care program for the poor and disabled.
Congress and the president must now turn their attention to issues like the budget for next year and the debt limit. The debt limit is the amount of money that the government is permitted to borrow. The current limit is more than fourteen trillion dollars -- nearly equal to all the goods and services produced in the United States in a year.
The government is expected to reach that limit next month. But the Treasury Department cannot borrow more money by selling bonds unless Congress acts.
Republicans are threatening to reject Mr. Obama's request to raise the debt limit unless he agrees to bigger spending cuts. But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says the United States might miss payments on its debts and create another economic crisis.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: "I think it would make the crisis we just went through look modest in comparison. "
Steve Hess at Moody's Investor Service says if lenders were really worried, they would raise the interest rates they charge on loans to the government.
STEVE HESS: "If you look at the market, it does not seem that the wrangling so far has had a big effect on the government's cost of borrowing. "
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. For news and activities for English learners anytime, go to voaspecialenglish.com. And you can find us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Mario Ritter.
Contributing: Michael Bowman, Lisa Ferdinando, Jim Randle and Dan Robinson