House Republicans push energy and science cuts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientific research, environmental protection and other priorities of the Obama administration would face steep cuts under a congressional Republican spending plan released Wednesday.
More than 60 programs would be eliminated entirely, including Obama's effort to build a network of high-speed passenger trains.
Birth control funding, the Americorps volunteer program, public broadcasting, the community-oriented policing program and a "weatherization" program to insulate homes and office buildings also would be eliminated.
The proposal has virtually no chance of becoming law because President Barack Obama and the Democrats who control the Senate are certain to oppose it.
But it will frame a debate over federal spending that is likely to dominate Washington this year.
Republicans in the House of Representatives aim to impose immediate cuts averaging 15 percent on domestic spending programs to narrow a budget deficit projected to hit a record $1.5 trillion this year, and show conservative voters that they are serious about scaling back the size of government.
"We have taken a wire brush to the discretionary budget and scoured every program to find real savings," said Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who as chairman of the Appropriations Committee is leading the effort.
Republicans congressional leaders emerged from a White House lunch with Obama voicing optimism that they would be able to work with the president on budget cuts.
But with Obama pushing for targeted increases in scientific research and other areas, consensus will not come easily.
"This is all a political statement to try to appeal to a relatively narrow base, and I suspect when they finish their work that it's going to be an even narrower base," Democratic Representative Jim Moran told Reuters.
The plan would eliminate 60,000 jobs, said Moran, who sits on the Appropriations Committee.
Congress will have to agree on spending levels to avoid a government shutdown when current funding expires on March 4.
The $32 billion in cuts prepared by the Appropriations Committee would amount to the largest budget cut in U.S. history. But they would spare entitlement programs, such as pension and health insurance for the elderly, and military spending that account for the majority of the $3.7 trillion annual U.S. budget.
The final package that passes the House is likely to be even deeper as newly elected conservative members push for an additional $26 billion in cuts.
House Republican leader Eric Cantor said it likely will deny funding needed to implement Obama's landmark healthcare reform, which Congress passed last year.
It is not clear if the package that the Appropriations Committee is putting together will include those cuts, or if they will be added during debate on the House floor next week.
The committee is expected to finish work on the package on Thursday.
The package would apply to a fiscal year that is nearly halfway through, meaning that many agencies and programs would face immediate, sharp budget cuts.
* A 30 percent cut to the Energy Department's Office of Science, which funds basic scientific research. Obama called for renewed emphasis on scientific research in his State of the Union speech last month.
* A 5 percent cut to a program that provides food for low-income mothers and children.
* A 2 percent cut to the Internal Revenue Service, which faces increased duties under the new healthcare law.
* Sharp cuts to several programs that help local governments upgrade drinking-water and sewer systems and fund improvements in poor neighborhoods.
* Eliminating outright the $1 billion set aside for Obama's high-speed rail network.
* $2 billion in cuts from the government's $18 billion in job-training programs.
* A 32 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, which aims to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases over Republican objections.
* Cuts to an array of energy programs, from efforts to boost efficiency and renewable energy programs to nuclear and clean-coal programs.
(Additional reporting by Donna Smith; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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