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Political Notebook

Congress OK’s cuts, funds government

March 18, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Congress approved an additional $6 billion in spending cuts yesterday, passing legislation to keep the government running through April 8 and allow time for talks on a larger package of reductions demanded by Republicans.

“The president is optimistic that Congress can get this done,’’ said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, in a statement.

The measure brought the total of cuts to $10 billion since Republicans took control of the House in January on a promise to rein in the federal government. It cleared the Senate yesterday, 87 to 13, one day after passing the House.

Administration officials have met with top aides to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, to discuss a compromise package of cuts that would be included in a longer-term bill funding the government for the six months remaining in the budget year.

The House has passed a bill calling for $61 billion in cuts, but it lacks enough support to pass in the Senate, and Obama has threatened to veto it.

It is not clear what progress, if any, has been made toward a possible compromise. The most significant decisions are not expected to be made until lawmakers return to the Capitol after a 10-day vacation.

While lawmakers in both parties hailed the $10 billion as the largest cutback in decades, it is dwarfed in the context of a $1.6 trillion deficit estimated for the current fiscal year.

Any attempt to cut significantly into the red ink would have to expand beyond the domestic programs covered by the bill that passed yesterday and include benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

— Associated Press

Bay State congressmen at odds on aid to Ireland WASHINGTON — A financial vestige of US efforts to encourage peace in Northern Ireland has disappeared after a quarter century, leaving disagreements that echo on both sides of the Atlantic and have divided two of the Bay State’s congressmen.

Congress recently eliminated nearly $20 million in an earmark for the International Fund for Ireland. The economic aid had been extended by the United States every year since the 1980s to help smooth the turbulence of the island’s deep conflicts. Once supported by Senator Edward M. Kennedy as an important element of the peace process, the accumulated payments reached $450 million.

The debate over the money continues. Irish officials in Washington are asking members of Congress this week to restore the funds. And the Obama administration is seeking to put the money back into a future budget.

They have an ally in Representative Richard Neal of Springfield. In a statement, spokesman William Tranghese said Neal supports a move by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to restore aid to the International Fund for Ireland in the 2012 State Department budget.

“He feels it is not the time to be sending a message to the people on the island of Ireland that the United States is no longer interested in their journey towards peace and reconciliation,’’ Tranghese said of Neal.

Yet the spending cut has backers, including Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston, a traditionally Irish enclave. But Lynch thinks the money could be better spent on scholarships, not on economic aid.

In a letter to House budget leaders, he is calling for $5 million a year, for four years starting in 2012, to be directed to an existing scholarship in the name of George Mitchell, the former US Senate majority leader and envoy who negotiated the lasting Northern Ireland peace in the 1990s. Lynch says using the money for scholarships instead of on aid for the International Fund for Ireland amounts to “building a future relationship based on contemporary realities rather than nostalgia.’’

— Christopher Rowland

President, in green tie, adds Ireland to his May schedule WASHINGTON — President Obama chose Saint Patrick’s Day to announce that he is adding Ireland to the itinerary for his trip to Europe in May.

Obama made the announcement as he welcomed new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the White House yesterday for an annual ceremony of Irish-American solidarity.

He joked that Vice President Joe Biden was “envious because he wants to go first.’’

Obama and Biden, both in green ties, spoke about the strong bonds between the two countries.

The president said Ireland is “bouncing back’’ from its economic crisis and that Kenny had shared his economic recovery plans with Obama.

Kenny said Ireland was “open for business’’ and that Obama’s plans to visit represent “a significant statement of confidence’’ in the country.

— Associated Press