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Obama seeks to force votes on spending cuts

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama sent legislation to Congress yesterday that would allow him to force lawmakers to vote on cutting earmarks and wasteful programs from spending bills.

The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have already been signed into law for pork barrel projects and other dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject them.

White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag said that while the new presidential power would not be a panacea for the government's spending excesses, it would "add to the arsenal of tools" available to reduce spending.

In a phone conference with reporters, he said the legislation was crafted to avoid constitutional hurdles. Past efforts "gave the knife to the president" to make the cuts, he said, while the Obama administration's bill would give it back to Congress to make the final decision on cuts.

Senate Democrats filibustered the idea to death just three years ago, and so Obama's move would seem like a long shot. But the plan could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they are tough on spending.

The top two Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, stopped short of endorsing the president's initiative.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement that while Republicans are pleased the president was sending the legislation to Congress, "this is no substitute for a real budget that reins in overall federal spending."

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