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House cuts blindly into bone

Overall, the deep spending cuts that Republicans in the House of Representatives approved before dawn Saturday are more political statement than achievable budget savings. Give them credit: Goaded by their 87 freshman members, Republicans are driving the deficit-reduction agenda, which is what most of the new members were elected to do.

But the federal budget can't be balanced by cutting spending just for the remaining seven months of the current fiscal year. Or by slashing only nonsecurity discretionary spending - the only cuts on the table - which accounts for just 12 percent of what Washington spends. The big money is in health care entitlement programs and the military, subjects for future budget battles. Republicans should recognize those limitations and find a compromise on discretionary spending with Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama, who said he will veto the House bill. Compromise won't be easy.

The tea party-influenced Republican freshmen ran promising to cut spending, taxes and the size of government. Compromise is a dirty word for many, and many of the people who elected them. Some insist the House cuts don't go far enough, so they don't seem of a mind to deal.

But the current continuing resolution to fund the federal government expires March 4, just days after Congress returns from its weeklong Presidents Day recess. That's not much time to avoid a disruptive government shutdown. Officials shouldn't risk that sort of economic shock.

Saturday's $1.2-trillion bill includes $61 billion in cuts from what remains of the $553 billion in nonsecurity discretionary spending for the fiscal year that ends in September.

It zeros out Democratic favorites such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood and money to implement health care reform. But it also reduces funding for the Census Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and medical research. Education programs such as Head Start, college financial aid and job-training programs were also trimmed. So were border security, immigration enforcement and more.

Democrats should get the message on spending, as many said they have. None voted for the House resolution, but Senate leaders said they agree that cuts must be made - although they prefer about $41 billion for this fiscal year.

Finding a workable compromise would be easier if Republicans hadn't left untouched targets such as subsidies for the oil industry and ethanol production. Everything should be on the table as officials debate how to cut spending while doing the least damage possible to the economic recovery. Democrats insist the Republican cuts would cost hundreds of thousands of federal jobs, to which Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "So be it." That's too cavalier.

This first round of cuts should be done pragmatically to avoid poisoning the well for bigger fights to come over 2012 spending and entitlements.