House's frenzy of budget cuts: defund military bands, ban White House repairs

There's still no federal budget for 2011, so House members are trying to come up with a stopgap 'continuing resolution' with billions in cuts. What to cut? House members are making hundreds of proposals this week.

Chairman Harold Rogers (R) of Kentucky presides over a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee. House Republicans want to cut President Obama's budget for the rest of the fiscal year by $100 billion.

With the clock ticking toward a March 4 deadline, House Republicans and the Obama administration are engaged in a budget ritual all too familiar in Washington: having failed to pass a budget for the full year, they’re scrambling to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year via a stopgap “continuing resolution.”

Without a new continuing resolution by March 4, the government will have to shut down. No checks issued for Social Security pensioners and veterans. Gates slammed shut at national parks. Government scientists hanging up their lab coats.

So this week, members of the House are trying to finish work on a continuing resolution for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends in September. Complicating matters is House Republicans' goal to make the continuing resolution $100 billion cheaper than the fiscal year 2011 budget offered by President Obama a year ago but never passed. To this end, they are offering some 400 amendments – the proverbial legislative sausage-making.

The amendments range from the sweeping to the minuscule.

Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas would do away with the entire foreign aid budget. Rep. Betty McCollum (D) of Minnesota would ban the Defense Department from sponsoring NASCAR vehicles, or from spending more than $200 million (pocket change in federal budgeting) on “military bands, musical equipment or musical performance.”

Some amendments seem churlish. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R) of Texas wants to ban spending for repairs to the Obama family’s residence at the White House.

Others make political statements far beyond the funding in question. One House GOP budget provision for FY 2011 would cut off funding for implementation of the new health-care reform law.

For all the criticisms of “Obamacare,” that could be politically tricky. A new CBS News poll shows that 55 percent of those surveyed don’t want that funding cutoff, compared with 35 percent who do.

President Obama has vowed to reach for his veto pen if he "is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits," the White House budget office warned Tuesday.

The $100 billion target is either draconian or not enough, depending on one’s point of view.

Among other things, the House continuing resolution and GOP amendments would cut the EPA’s ability to regulated greenhouse gases tied to climate change, halt the Chesapeake Bay recovery program, prevent implementation of portions of the Clean Water Act, and make it easier to drill for oil in the Arctic.

“Many of these amendments don’t have anything to do with reducing the budget,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They’re about satisfying the wish-lists of polluters and others who prize big profit margins over vital protections for America’s wildlife, clean air and water.”

On the other hand, the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House wants to cut another $20 billion or so – well beyond what the GOP leadership was pressured to do by lawmakers aligned with the tea party movement. The goal is to return non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels. (Aid to Israel is a notable exception.)

Meanwhile, there may be intramural tussles when spending for FY 2011 is taken up in the Senate. Some Republican lawmakers are resisting proposed cuts to programs that fund community policing, low income energy assistance, and supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children.

“The Senate result will be substantially different,” Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana told The Hill newspaper. “Sixty-one billion dollars in cuts appears to be beyond what is likely to happen.”

House members expect to finish their FY 2011 budget deliberations this week. Then it’s on to the Senate, after which the two chambers will hash out their differences and send something for Obama’s signature … or veto.

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