House Panel Orders Cuts to Defense Budget

WASHINGTON (AP) - A key House panel on Tuesday ordered a $3.5
billion cut from President Barack Obama's defense budget Tuesday
while setting the stage for big increases for domestic programs
favored by Democrats.

In kicking off action on 12 annual spending bills that set
agency operating budgets, the House Appropriations Committee also
unveiled legislation generously boosting the House's own budget
while adopting a $64.3 billion measure funding the Commerce and
Justice departments and the space program.

The flurry of action came as an overdue $100 billion war funding
bill remained stuck in House-Senate talks. House Appropriations
Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., warned that a battle over
language governing Obama's planned closing of the prison in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a main reason the war funding bill is
"likely to be hung up for some time into the future."

Even so, the panel is moving ahead with spending bills likely to
occupy the House for the next several weeks in an effort to get the
annual appropriations process back on track after years of battles
with then-President George W. Bush.

Republicans protested the course of spending being set by Obama
and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, including a 4 percent
increase for defense they deem inadequate. But nondefense accounts,
led by foreign aid, the Interior Department's budget and
transportation and housing programs would get increases averaging
12 percent, according to GOP calculations.

The cuts to Obama's defense budget will be fleshed out when the
defense subcommittee unveils its bill next month. Tuesday's action
cut the amount of money the panel will have to work with.

The Commerce and Justice bill approved by voice vote Tuesday
more than doubles the budget for the Bureau of the Census as the
government ramps up for next year's decenial count.

It also would make it more difficult for Obama to close
Guantanamo Bay by his January deadline by denying the president $60
million he sought for the Justice Department to carry out its role
in the closure.

It also contains about $640 million worth of parochial projects
sought by lawmakers for grants to local law enforcement, anti-gang
centers, and programs to fight methamphetamine, among others.

The measure also would save a program that helps states with the
cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants from Obama's
budget ax.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, a favorite of
lawmakers from California and Texas, still wasn't completely spared
from budget cuts. A House Appropriations panel decided to allocate
$300 million to the program, a $100 million reduction from current
levels but still a clear rejection of Obama's plans to eliminate
the program.

While complaining about the measure's overall price tag,
Republicans tried to restore the $100 million cut - through
offsetting cuts to the Census - but lost on a party-line vote.

Earlier Tuesday, the legislative branch subcommittee approved a
7 percent increase for Congress' own budget, maintaining a pattern
in which Congress awards itself budget increases easily exceeding
inflation.

The new budget year starts Oct. 1, though Congress is unlikely
to meet the deadline. Lawmakers are optimistic, however, of passing
the 12 bills separately by the time Congress adjourns.


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