WASHINGTON Underscoring their priorities for the next U.S. budget talks, Republican lawmakers detailed additional cuts to domestic programs on Tuesday to boost funding to defense and security agencies.
The proposed reductions, released by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, would reduce fiscal 2014 funding for the White House, the District of Columbia, the Internal Revenue Service and other financial services-related agencies by $3 billion. Many of the accounts already are squeezed by the "sequester" automatic spending cuts.
The Republican proposals also would cut NASA's budget by $928 million compared to last year, cut another $198 million from the Department of Commerce and $259 million from the National Science Foundation, which funds an array of scientific research projects.
At the same time, the Republican-controlled committee has proposed giving the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prisons, an increase of $770 million above the current sequester level.
Federal court funding also would get a $12 million boost from the fiscal 2013 level.
"This legislation targets taxpayer dollars to federal law enforcement and safety programs, ensuring that the essential functions of the federal government - protecting the life, liberty and property of our citizens - are maintained," House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said in a statement.
"These are tight budget times, and in order to fund these critical programs, hard choices had to be made to reduce or eliminate funding in lower priority areas," the Kentucky Republican added.
An improving budget picture has drained away Congress' urgency to negotiate a new budget deal, pushing other issues such as immigration to the forefront. But budget talks are expected to pick up again in September, as the October 1 start of the new fiscal year draws closer. A few weeks later, likely in November, an increase in the federal debt limit will be needed, providing another pressure point for a deal.
The proposals are consistent with the House Republican plans to keep savings from the sequestration cuts in place and cap 2014 spending for agencies and discretionary programs at $967 billion. They are vastly at odds with the Senate, where the majority Democrats are writing spending bills at a much higher level of $1.058 trillion.
The additional money being considered in the Senate would largely provide more funding for the domestic programs House Republicans want to cut.
Without a broader budget agreement that eliminates or replaces the sequester cuts - about $1 trillion over a decade - the Congress will most likely turn to a stop-gap funding measure to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts on October 1.
"I think the House having one number and the Senate having another number is a killer," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
The October 1 deadline for agency funding is one of two major fiscal pressure points for Republicans to demand further deficit reduction moves. Analysts say Congress will also need to increase the federal debt ceiling a few weeks later, likely in November.
The House is yet to consider a committee-approved $512.5 billion defense appropriations bill that is $28 billion above the current sequester-reduced level.
House members on Tuesday debated a $30.4 billion spending bill for energy programs and water development projects that is $700 million below the level caused by sequestration.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)