updated 6/9/2009 9:06:58 PM ET 2009-06-10T01:06:58

A key House of Representatives 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.

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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, a Democrat, 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 protest
Republicans protested the course of spending being set by Obama and his Democratic allies in Washington, 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 Republican 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.

Census cuts fail
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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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