Image: Jacob Lew
NICHOLAS KAMM  /  AFP - Getty Images
Budget chief Jacob Lew defends President Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday as the House debated $100 billion in cuts to Obama's request for the current fiscal year.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 2/16/2011 11:37:59 AM ET 2011-02-16T16:37:59

As your family doctor would say, this Republican budget proposal "may hurt a bit." Or more than a bit, if you’re a police chief, a climate change scientist, or someone suffering from tuberculosis in Zimbabwe.

The House will be voting this week on a Republican bill, called a “continuing resolution” or CR, to cut $100 billion from President Barack Obama’s funding request for programs for the remaining seven months of this fiscal year.

Don’t confuse the battle over the CR with that other battle which the House is going to be waging in the coming weeks over Obama’s spending request for fiscal year 2012, which begins on Oct. 1.

The CR being debated this week deals with immediate cuts to this year’s spending. The proposed $100 billion cut is equal to 2.7 percent of total federal spending this fiscal year.

In a key procedural vote Tuesday, eight House Democrats joined 234 Republicans to move ahead with the bill.

The CR almost certainly won’t be fully enacted because the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House won’t agree to cuts that large. Obama vowed to veto the CR Tuesday, but it does provide a starting point for bargaining between Republicans and the president.

A clash over what taxpayers can afford
Exactly where the Republicans would make their cuts highlights the contrast between their view and Obama’s of what taxpayers can afford.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the cuts would “go far and wide, and will affect every community in the nation” but are “necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path.”

Video: Budget battle on Capitol Hill (on this page)

One of the GOP leaders on cutting spending, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, said in the debate on the House floor Tuesday, “If we want to have jobs today, if we want to protect our children from bankruptcy tomorrow, we’ve got to quit spending money we don’t have. There is a debt crisis in America and it is spending-driven, being led by the president and our friends from the other side of the aisle. ”

“Cuts of this magnitude, as the chairman (Rogers) said, have never been done before. We are in uncharted waters,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., in the debate on the House floor. He argued that the cuts would “drive unemployment up” and “hurt the fragile recovery.”

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Deficit cutting means people must do without money they’d expected to get. Here are three of the specific cuts and who would feel the pain from them:

Mayors and police chiefs
Is putting some more police officers on the beat in Paterson, N.J., really a proper function of the federal government?

Many Republicans think not. The GOP bill would cut $600 million from Obama’s request for this fiscal year for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, essentially killing the program.

Chart: U.S. budget deficit (on this page)

An outgrowth of a campaign pledge by Bill Clinton in 1992 and a favorite of Vice President Joe Biden, the program was created by the 1994 crime bill, which Biden shepherded to passage when he served as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

Since COPS was created in 1994, mayors and police chiefs around the nation have come to rely on the more than $13.5 billion in funds that flowed from Washington to shore up their police forces. The money has helped cities and towns hire more than 121,000 officers.

But with FBI statistics showing that the violent crime rate in the United States has declined by 40 percent since COPS was created, some in Congress have questioned whether the program has outlived its need.

Kabul vs. Paterson, N.J.
At a House Budget Committee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D- N.J., who served as mayor of Paterson, N.J., back in the 1990s, asked Obama’s budget director Jack Lew, “Why should we be paying for police to patrol the streets of Kabul and Baghdad? Why is that exempt (from budget cuts) … but not cops on the beat in Paterson, New Jersey or Camden, New Jersey? Why?”

“We don’t believe the choice is you either do one or the other. One of the things we’ve tried to do is preserve funding for the COPS program,” Lew replied.

Story: Navigating the budget battles ahead

Since 1994, $12.6 million in COPS grants have funded 137 police officers in Pascrell’s city of Paterson.

As for Camden, it recently laid off 45 percent of its police force, underscoring the point that the recession has undermined cities’ and states’ ability to pay for police officers, firefighters, teachers and clerks.

Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the National League of Cities, said, “Camden is perhaps an extreme example of what is happening, but it is happening elsewhere. We’re seeing a lot of cutbacks in terms of equipment purchases and such, and that’s happening all over the country. And for police, fire and safety, it’s usually a cut of last resort.”

But the Republican argument is: If Camden and Paterson don’t have the money to pay their police, neither does the federal Treasury.

Cuts to climate change regulation
The House Republicans are generally skeptical about human-caused climate change, so it’s little surprise that their CR would cut climate change funding by $107 million, or 29 percent, from the fiscal year 2010 level.

For example, the bill would cut $9 million from Obama’s FY2011 request for a greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting registry that Congress ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to set up in 2008.

Under that 2008 law, factories and other facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs were required to report them to EPA.

Kyle Danish, a lawyer with the Van Ness Feldman law firm in Washington who specializes in climate change policy, said that even more significant than the specific cuts was a provision that Republicans have attached to the CR which would essentially prohibit the EPA from using any funds to develop or enforce rules relating to greenhouse gases. (The bill would exempt the GHG standards EPA has issued for new motor vehicles.)

“This rider is one thread in a strategy by Republicans (and some Democrats) to curb EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gasses,” he said.

In addition to the defunding approach, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., has proposed a bill to remove any authority of federal agencies to regulate greenhouse gases. Another approach, pushed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D- W.V., would suspend EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions for two years.

Danish said the Republicans’ defunding strategy might not work as well as they hope.

“Because of previous actions by EPA, certain new or modified facilities now have an obligation to obtain special pre-construction permits on account of their greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Defunding EPA climate change activities does not remove this permitting obligation; it only means you can't work with EPA to get the permit.”

The cuts show how much the political climate has changed since 2009 when the Obama budget proposal assumed that Congress would enact a sweeping cap-and-trade program. His first budget plan in 2009 assumed that federal sale of emissions permits would raise $600 billion in new revenues for the federal government over ten years.

Tuberculosis sufferers in Zimbabwe
The CR would cut $1.5 billion from Obama’s FY2011 spending request for global health and child survival programs.

Sheila Nix, the U.S. executive director of The ONE Campaign, a non-partisan advocacy organization co-founded by the singer Bono which fights global poverty and preventable disease, said in a statement Monday, "The House Appropriations Committee has faced very difficult choices in designing its budget for the remainder of FY 2011. We at ONE understand the need for greater fiscal restraints,” but “we are deeply disappointed by the Appropriators' choice to step away from America's long-term humanitarian interests ... .”

She said the CR would cut $450 million in U.S. contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, an international public-private partnership which pays for deterring and treating those diseases in 150 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

According to the ONE campaign estimate, the $450 million cut would mean approximately six million treatments for malaria would not be administered, 3.7 million people would not be tested for HIV, and 372,000 tests and treatments for tuberculosis would be halted.

But House GOP freshman have been firm in insisting on cutting the full $100 billion, as they promised to do when they ran for office last year.

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Video: Budget battle on Capitol Hill

Chart: U.S. budget deficit


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