Friday, May 17, 2013

House bill protects homeland security budget

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican-controlled House panel moved Thursday to protect the Department of Homeland Security from the big cuts facing other domestic agencies under the party's budget slashing plan.

The Appropriations subcommittee moved to beef up the Border patrol and grants to local governments for first responders and training to disarm bombs. Its work came a day after another panel increased funding for politically sacrosanct programs for veterans.

The measure won support from Democrats. In many areas Republicans boosted spending above President Barack Obama's budget request.

Earlier this year, tea party forces in the GOP-controlled House pushed through a budget that would force non-defense programs to bear cuts more than $90 billion below levels called for in a 2011 budget pact. The GOP House and Democratic-controlled Senate remain at odds over the budget, including the amount for agency operating budgets.

At issue are the 12 annual bills funding the day-to-day budgets of Cabinet agencies. The Appropriations panel is moving ahead even though Democrats and Republicans are $92 billion apart on the overall pot of money to dedicate to agency operating budgets. Democrats are pushing a $1.058 trillion figure; Republicans are backing a $966 billion level that assumes unpopular across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are left in place. The cuts are the result of Washington's inability to follow up a 2011 budget agreement with additional deficit cuts.

In addition, to placate GOP defense hawks, party leaders have moved to replace defense cuts by forcing domestic programs to take even deeper cuts.

The old-school, pragmatic Republicans atop the Appropriations panel are skeptical that the party's budget plan is workable but with no broader deal in sight they are moving ahead with their bills anyway. The first two measures advancing this week, however, basically ignore the strictures of the GOP budget assembled by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

But Democrats warned that generously funding the homeland security and veterans' budgets will mean even sharper cuts to programs like education, medical research, transportation and clean energy.

"The first few bills we're dealing with are pretty close to the president's request," said top panel Democrat Nita Lowey of New York. "Which means not much pickings left for the rest of the bills."

The chairman of the panel says he's hopeful of getting more money to work with later.

"Obviously we are severely short on our allocation," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "It very well could be that during the year there could be a replacement for sequestration and/or a budget deal that would give us more."

The homeland security measure would put the Border Patrol on a path to hire 1,600 additional agents, replace cuts sought by Obama to grants for state and local governments, boost cyber security spending and rejects Obama-sought cuts to the Coast Guard.


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