WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress crafting spending bills are largely rejecting the roster of program eliminations and budget cuts wanted by President Barack Obama.
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Obama proposed the cuts last month after what he promised would be a line-by-line scrub of the federal budget to counter Republican charges that he's spending the country into too much debt.
The House already has rejected his effort to kill a $400 million program that helps states with the cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants. And a homeland security spending bill up for a House vote this week keeps in place the World War II-era LORAN-C maritime navigation system that Obama wanted to ax, even though it's been rendered obsolete by the modern global positioning system. The homeland security measure also preserves $12 million in security grants for bus systems and $40 million in grants to local governments for emergency operations centers — both programs that Obama had proposed killing.
All told, lawmakers in both parties — California Republicans were a driving force in preserving the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program that subsidizes the cost of keeping criminal illegal immigrants in jail — have combined to preserve more than $750 million worth of cuts suggested by Obama.
Billions in proposed cuts
Some 75 of the Obama cuts, totaling $11.5 billion, would come from agency operating budgets passed by Congress during its annual appropriations process. That process is just gearing up, with floor action intensifying in the House and Senate this week.
Lawmakers have yet to deal with Obama's most controversial proposed cuts — including plans by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to terminate the F-22 fighter program to save $2.9 billion in 2010, end production of C-17 cargo planes and kill a presidential helicopter program that is over budget.
Congress already has provided $2.2 billion this year for eight C-17s and a House defense policy panel narrowly rejected Obama's proposal to end production of F-22 fighters, which critics say are too expensive and are better suited to the Cold War than fighting terrorists.
And on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., orchestrated at least $10 million in aid for her state to help it reduce diesel emissions, even though Obama called to stop giving California special treatment.
Democrats are following some of Obama's suggestions — and are adding a few cuts of their own on top. Last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a $22.9 billion measure for the Department of Agriculture that denied the agency $15 million for its much-criticized animal identification program.
Money to fights AIDS
The panel also endorsed Obama's plan to eliminate an $18 million grant program to help people in Alaska, Hawaii and a few isolated areas in the continental U.S. get reasonably priced electricity. Loan programs can achieve the same purpose.
Also Tuesday, the House Appropriations panel easily approved a $48.8 billion foreign aid bill that provides $318.8 million for Mexico and Central America and $520 million for Colombia to fight narcotics and criminal gangs.
The measure also provides $5.7 billion to fight AIDS across the globe.
The panel also gave unanimous voice vote approval to take up a $77.9 billion measure for veterans programs and military base construction, a 7 percent increase. The measure also pre-funds veterans health programs for the 2011 budget year.
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