Capitol Hill budget circus continues

From left, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale, and others, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, before the HouseArmed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department's budget. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale, and others, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, before the HouseArmed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s budget. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Conservatives are trying to cut arts funding while Democrats seek to restore family planning and health research funds as the House enters a third day of debate on a sweeping spending bill cleaning up last year’s budget mess.

Despite working past midnight once again, lawmakers still intended to offer a raft of amendments to the $1.2 trillion legislation, which funds the Pentagon and the operating budgets of every Cabinet agency and provides $158 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House sent mixed signals Wednesday, canceling $450 million for a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon’s next-generation F-35 warplane but then turning around and approving amendments by Democrats to ease cuts to economic development grants and popular grant programs for local fire departments and for hiring police officers.

The showdown 233-198 vote on the engine was a win for President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and was fueled by the votes of many GOP conservatives against the program, including 47 Republican freshmen elected last fall on promises to cut the budget.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House GOP leaders backed the funding for the alternative engine for the F-35 — as does the Democratic-controlled Senate — so it still has a big chance as the sprawling measure makes its way through the Senate and on to Obama.

Thursday promises to be especially freewheeling, with dozens of votes possible on amendments, including those cutting the National Endowment for the Arts, restoring family planning funds, boosting health research and reversing cuts to community health centers.

The underlying bill would make cuts totaling more than $60 billion from the agency budgets Congress passes each year. Nearly all of the reductions are aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection and heating and housing subsidies for the poor.

Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the measure and Obama has threatened a veto if it reaches his desk, citing sweeping cuts that he says would endanger the economic recovery.

House passage is expected by week’s end, but the Senate won’t turn to it until after returning from next week’s recess, just days before the expiration of a March 4 deadline.

Some Republicans want to go further, blocking implementation of Obama’s signature health care overhaul and stopping the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing its proposed new “net neutrality” policy. That policy would prohibit telephone and cable TV companies from interfering with traffic on their broadband networks.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is pressing an amendment to cut off funds to more than 100 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country.

Democrats, joined by Republicans uneasy over some of the most politically painful cuts, have had success in reversing some of them. Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., won a voice vote Wednesday night to restore $50 million of a $390 million cut to a program offering heating subsidies for the poor.

Earlier, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., gained support from GOP moderates to win a 228-203 vote to restore $298 million for police hiring grants. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, won a vote to restore $80 million for economic development grants. And more than half of House Republicans supported a move by Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., to restore $510 million in grants to help fire departments train and equip firefighters.

On the other side, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., succeeded in cutting money for the National Drug Intelligence Center, a facility that was built in southwestern Pennsylvania at the insistence of the area’s late congressman, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.

And Rep. Thomas Reed, R-N.Y., succeeded in winning a 228-203 vote to block a $10 million sewer project in Tijuana, Mexico, whose untreated waste flows into San Diego and its coastal beaches.

But a coalition of Democrats, GOP moderates and Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee combined to kill, 259-171, an amendment by tea party-backed freshman Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., to wipe out funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal help to the poor.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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