By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives halted consideration of a $44 billion transportation and housing spending bill due to lack of support, signaling that the majority Republicans are unable to push through deep spending cuts to domestic agencies.
There were not enough Republican votes in favor of the measure to overcome virtually certain opposition from all House Democrats, Republican lawmakers and aides said.
The measure would cut federal spending on road, rail and airport projects, public housing and community development grants by $7.7 billion from year-ago levels and $4.4 billion below current levels reduced by the automatic spending cuts known as sequester.
Republicans have insisted on maintaining savings from the $1.2 trillion sequester cuts, so they have capped the total amount for their 12 annual spending bills at $967 billion. But within this reduced spending pie, they have attempted to shift more funds to military and security programs, forcing much deeper cuts on domestic agencies and programs ranging from education to the Environmental Protection Agency.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said he was "extremely disappointed" with the decision, which marks the House's failure to implement the austere budget that it adopted in May - a plan authored by Republican Representative Paul Ryan that claimed to reach balance within a decade.
"The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon," he said. "I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration - and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts - must be brought to an end."
House Republican leadership aides insisted that the legislation was put on ice because there was simply not enough time to fully consider dozens of proposed amendments before Congress begins a five-week recess on Friday.
"We've passed four appropriations bills already this year with Republican votes. We're confident if there was more time this week, we'd make this our fifth," said Mike Long, a spokesman for Representative Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking House Republican.
Another senior Republican aide said that the House would try again to pass the measure in September.
But time will be short then, too, as there will be only nine legislative days for the Congress to come up with some sort of stop-gap funding measure to avoid a government shutdown on October Agreement on this measure will be difficult because the two parties are deeply divided over spending levels and how to replace the sequester cuts.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is writing its spending bills to a much higher $1.058 trillion cap, and its version of the transportation-housing bill is $10 billion more than the House measure.
Democrats want more revenue from closing tax loopholes to help resolve the sequester cuts, while Republicans are insisting on deeper cuts to expensive federal benefits programs for seniors.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)