published Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

House panel approves spending cut blueprint

By ANDREW TAYLOR

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A key House committee Tuesday approved the broad parameters of a GOP plan to sharply curb domestic programs and foreign aid, but it wasn’t enough for a handful of Republicans on the panel who promised to try to cut the measure even further during floor debate next week.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the spending blueprint on a 27-22 vote that featured defections by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., who wanted even further cuts, and the reluctant support of freshman Tom Graves, R-Ga., who urged panel chair Harold Rogers, R-Ky., to join tea party-backed efforts to cut spending even more.

The panel was not voting on actual legislation, just a very general outline of where the budget might be cut next when Republicans bring the sprawling measure to the floor for what is certain to be a freewheeling debate. The measure promises to roll spending back to the levels in place when Barack Obama took office, but it will still carry a total price tag exceeding $1.2 trillion after war costs are added.

Much of that money already has been spent under the terms of a stopgap spending bill that expires March 4. And with the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, it’s proving impossible for Republicans to cut President Barack Obama’s domestic and foreign aid budget by the $100 billion they promised during last fall’s campaign.

The detailed version of the measure is due out later this week and its cuts are sure to provoke howls of outrage from Democrats responsible for shepherding generous spending increases onto the books after Obama assumed office.

“They will make the job situation worse, they will hurt the middle class, they will hurt working families,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

Because the government has been running at levels below Obama’s budget submission a year ago, panel Republicans are producing $43 billion in cuts from domestic agency and foreign aid budgets when compared with levels enacted for 2010. Once increases for the Pentagon are accounted for, those savings are $35 billion.

Republican leaders prefer different math, pegged to Obama’s requests. They point to $58 billion in savings through the end of the year, compared with Obama’s hopes for domestic agencies. That rises to $74 billion after defense cuts are folded in.

While too small for conservatives determined to seek the full $100 billion, the cuts would impose a 9 percent reduction, on average, in foreign aid and the domestic programs whose 2001 budgets still need to be passed by Congress. Through the final seven months of the budget year, they’ll feel more like 16 percent since the cuts would be compressed into a shorter time frame.

Republicans responsible for drawing up pieces of the bill promise to protect law enforcement agencies like the FBI, as well as some programs for the vulnerable, including subsidized housing vouchers for the poor. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., lead lawmaker on science programs and the Justice Department offered assurances that “NASA’s going to be okay,” but he’s sure to cut money for police departments that’s popular with local officials in every congressional district.

“You’re not going to see a meat axe,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, noting that the GOP measure follows “huge, huge increases” put in place under Obama. He promises to try to protect the Indian Health Service as much as possible.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he expects Republicans will pass the funding bill with a restriction denying Obama the money to carry out his signature health care overhaul bill.

Across the Capitol, a plan to make Congress vote on spending cuts for projects or programs that Obama says are wasteful gained considerable momentum in the Senate.

Fourteen Democrats and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman joined Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in sponsoring legislation giving Obama the right to propose removing objectionable items from spending bills he otherwise approves of. The president could then send his package of spending cuts back to Congress for a mandatory vote to either accept or reject them.

The measure is a weaker version of the line-item veto power possessed by most governors and briefly enjoyed by former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s — before the Supreme Court ruled it was an unconstitutional infringement on Congress’ power.

Obama backed a similar plan last year but it was shelved by his Democratic allies then in control of Congress. Now, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats only narrowly in charge of the Senate, sponsors are hopeful about its prospects.

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