Democrats Allow Trims to Favored Programs
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER and ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — After a bruising battle with Republicans over financing the government through the rest of the fiscal year, Democrats spoke proudly of their success in staving off painful cuts to programs near and dear to them, ones that became the centerpiece of their fight against huge cuts sought by Republicans.
But as some details of the plan to cut roughly $38 billion in federal spending came trickling out Monday, it was clear that many of those programs, while cut nowhere near as much as Republicans had hoped, were significantly nibbled at.
The spending bill would maintain the maximum Pell grant award for low-income students at $5,550. But it would end a new Pell grant program for summer school students, saving hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Obama successfully resisted Republican efforts to take all federal money from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But the spending bill cuts money for the program that finances many family-planning services provided by Planned Parenthood and other organizations, Title X of the Public Health Service Act. The appropriation would be reduced to $300 million, from $317 million, Congressional aides said.
Further, while Democrats were successful in forcing Republicans to slice $17 billion from some mandatory programs, millions of dollars were still cut from programs that Democrats champion, including $30 million from a job training program, $350 million from an environmental quality incentives program and $30 million from a program that helps the National Park Service acquire land.
The budget agreement, which President Obama said would produce “the largest annual spending cut in our history” came after painful wrangling between Democrats, who sought to preserve as many social programs as possible, and Republicans, who sought to make even larger cuts. A deal to avert a shutdown, reached late Friday night, left most areas of government with at least some trims.
“Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful,” Mr. Obama said. “Programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.”
The spending bill would save more than $3 billion by not paying out money set aside for bonuses to states that have increased the enrollment of uninsured children in Medicaid.
In addition, the spending bill would cut money for a Labor Department program that encourages creation of “green jobs,” providing goods and services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. The Republicans were able to eliminate four of Mr. Obama’s “policy czars”: those with responsibility for health care, climate change, autos and urban affairs, according to Congressional aides.
The Pell grants for summer school were costing much more than expected, and Mr. Obama had proposed to end “the costly new year-round Pell grant” in his budget request for 2012.
The spending plan would cancel an alternate fighter jet engine that the Bush and Obama administrations sought to eliminate for the last five years, mirroring a surprising 233 to 198 vote in the House in February to end the program.
More than $4 billion of savings under the budget agreement would come from a Justice Department program that provides services to victims of crime. Much of the revenue is derived from criminal fines, which have kept the victims fund well financed in recent years.
The budget agreement would slice nearly $500 million from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, which helps finance criminal investigations by federal law enforcement agencies. The government gets money for the fund by seizing and selling property used in connection with criminal activity.
In addition, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed to cancel more than $3 billion in local transportation projects authorized at the behest of lawmakers, including some who are no longer in Congress. Lawmakers refer to these pet projects as orphan earmarks or phantom earmarks. The money was approved years ago, but not spent, and in some cases the original sponsors have died.
Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the savings showed that “we are serious about cutting spending wherever and whenever we can.”
Members of Congress in both parties were kept in the dark on Monday as a few members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and their aides worked out the final wording of the bill on which the two chambers expect to vote this week.
House Republicans had promised a new openness and transparency, with plenty of time for lawmakers to inspect legislation before voting on it. Democrats said it was unclear whether those promises would be kept.
In the absence of detailed information about the cuts, many lawmakers refused to say how they would vote.
But Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said he knew enough about the deal to be sure he would oppose it.
“Only in Washington can a budget that spends more than it did the year before, with a larger deficit, be portrayed as cutting,” Mr. Paul said.
The federal government now borrows about 40 cents of every dollar it spends. In the last month, the amount of federal debt held by the public increased by more than twice as much as the amount that would be saved under the budget deal reached by Congress and the White House.