As usual, defense dominates budget debate

Staff members wait to hand out stacks of President Barack Obama's proposed 2012 federal budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republicans pressed ahead on Wednesday with legislation to immediately slice more than $61 billion from domestic spending but found their budget-cutting unity shaken in a House of Representatives vote to kill a big weapons project.

After refusing on Tuesday to trim other military spending for this year, the House voted 233-198 to deny immediately $450 million for the continued development of a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Republicans were almost evenly split on the project, which was opposed by the Pentagon, but Democrats voted nearly 2-to-1 to kill it.

If the Senate concurs in eliminating the program, the bipartisan measure could end up saving the government about $3 billion over the next few years.

Military brass, who oversee around $700 billion in Pentagon spending just this year, called the engine project an “unnecessary and extravagant expense.” But it has defenders in Congress whose home-state jobs are tied to the project.

In another vote, Republicans moved to gut an Environmental Protection Agency program that allows it to collect data from large factories and other polluters on the amount of greenhouse gases they emit.

The legislation already aimed to handcuff the EPA from going ahead this year with initial regulations to restrict carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming and this new amendment would further hamper the administration’s efforts.

While the Obama administration will be heartened by the House vote to pull the plug on the engine being developed by General Electric and Britain’s rolls-Royce, the overall bill to cut about $61.5 billion in domestic spending faced strong opposition.

The White House issued a veto threat on Tuesday and the bill has been criticized harshly by Senate Democrats.

But the Republican-controlled House was on pace to pass a measure that would cut non-defense spending by 14 percent by approving slightly more than $1 trillion to keep federal agencies operating through September.

Budget debates later this year could tackle broader issues not in this measure, such as long-term funding for the Social Security retirement program and healthcare for the poor and elderly under Medicaid and Medicare.

House Speaker John Boehner has characterized the cuts in the bill to fund the government from March 4 until September 30 as a down payment on deficit reduction that will go further next fiscal year.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye lashed out at the House bill, signaling he would kill it before it could reach President Barack Obama‘s desk.

“Many of the reductions proposed by the House were made not because programs were ineffective or wasteful, but out of desire to meet an arbitrary dollar figure cited during a political campaign,” Inouye, a Democrat, said.

In coming weeks, Inouye’s panel will produce its version of a spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year.

Inouye particularly scorned the House bill’s cuts to nuclear weapon safeguards, transportation investments and environmental programs.

Nevertheless, conservative House Republicans were trying to make this year’s cuts even deeper.

Most of those efforts were failing. But the House on Wednesday did go along with shifting some funds. For example, it voted to move $298 million back to local law enforcement programs by taking the money from the NASA space agency.

Similarly, $510 million was put back into local firefighting programs, with the funds to come out of Homeland Security research programs.

‘DANGEROUS AND UNSTABLE WORLD’

Obama, in the fiscal 2012 budget proposal he sent to Congress on Monday, called for $78 billion in Pentagon savings over five years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress on Wednesday against pursuing even deeper spending cuts in next year’s budget, saying, “We still live in a very dangerous and often unstable world.”

Congress also was admonished against cutting foreign aid in the drive to reduce budget deficits that have been hovering around $1.5 trillion annually.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional hearing that U.S. military aid to Egypt, which runs about $1.3 billion annually, had been of “incalculable value” in helping its armed forces become a capable, professional body that is dealing with the aftermath of the ouster of Egypt’s longtime president, Hosni Mubarak.

Senate Democrats embraced Obama’s call for a five-year freeze on most domestic spending.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had nothing but scorn for Democrats’ budget initiatives.

“Americans are screaming at us to do something about a $14 trillion dollar debt, the president proposes a budget that nearly doubles it and Democrats clap their hands in approval,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Phil Stewart, Tom Doggett, Andrea Shalal-Esa, Donna Smith and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

Enhanced by Zemanta

One Response to "As usual, defense dominates budget debate"

  1. woody188  February 17, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Other than the title, it doesn’t seem like defense is dominating the debate at all. Besides the engine project, which is Boehner’s pet project, it isn’t even really on the radar.

    But is this even defense? Here is a bucket list the DoD has said it has to deal with this year:
    Pandemic diseases
    Piracy
    Human trafficking
    Rising oceans
    National debt
    Education
    Cyber warfare
    The wars on terrorism
    Traditional state-to-state threats

    It seems the scope of DEFENSE has gone far beyond the traditional meaning of the word and branched into nearly everything under the sun. With a budget of $553 billion, not including special appropriations or war funding, is Obama’s proposed $15.6 billion per year cut even scratching the surface?

    So they make a big show over $450 million so you can rest assured, they are cutting everything. Although they’ve decided to let poor and old people freeze to death and instead build weapons and wage war. They would rather arm foreign countries via “foreign aid” than help their own women and children eat. These people have no soul or conscience to speak of.

    “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice… A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love…” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Comments are closed.