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New cuts detailed in federal budget compromise

WIC, EPA and community health centers will see funding slashed. Cuts show Democrats paid a steep price to avoid a government shutdown.

April 12, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • House Minority Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the final deal "made a bad situation less bad."
House Minority Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the final deal "made… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — Democrats and White House officials acceded to deep cuts in programs for the poor, law enforcement, the environment and civic projects to reach a budget deal that averted a federal government shutdown, according to new details of the $38-billion spending cut package.

The previously undisclosed reductions stunned advocates for community health centers, foreign aid and climate change research. Among the cuts is a $500-million reduction in funding for the federal health and nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC.

Democrats staved off even bigger cuts, but the final package carried a decidedly Republican policy stamp. The details were released Tuesday as part of the legislation that will go before lawmakers this week to enact the cuts and fund the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30.

As the package was readied for lawmakers, however, it became clear that support among some of the rank and file was dismal. The package is expected to be approved, grudgingly, to prevent a renewed threat of shutdown.

That neither side embraced the proposal underscored the difficulty of the compromise as well as the challenge of finding the middle ground in a Congress dominated by liberals and conservatives.

As details emerged, Democrats cringed at hits to programs and services needed by unemployed Americans who rely on government aid and by communities who need federal assistance to fund police departments and build roads and water and sewer systems.

The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said the final deal "made a bad situation less bad." He indicated that he was inclined to vote for it, but withheld support Tuesday.

Many of the newly revealed cuts hit squarely at Democratic priorities targeted by the GOP. Even so, many conservative Republicans intend to vote against the package, saying it does not go far enough.

The Environmental Protection Agency was spared from restrictions against its ability to regulate air and water pollution, including greenhouse gases that cause climate change. But the agency's budget is being cut by $1.6 billion, a 16% decrease from current levels.

President Obama's high-speed-rail initiative was eliminated for 2011, saving $2.9 billion. The American Public Transportation Assn. called the cut "simply shortsighted" at a time when building rail lines could create jobs and begin to offer Americans relief from rising gasoline prices.

Community health centers will lose $600 million, depriving 5 million low-income Americans of access to basic health services and prompting them to use more costly emergency rooms, advocates said.

"Health centers save money and save lives," said Tom Van Coverden, president and chief executive of the National Assn. of Community Health Centers. "We are disappointed that the final funding level undermines the ability to serve the millions of people who need our help."

Elsewhere, local sheriffs protested reductions to grant programs for first responders and to programs to combat illegal drugs and gangs.

The White House issued a terse statement of administration policy on the deal Tuesday. "The administration would not have agreed to many of these cuts under better fiscal circumstances," it said.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) found himself defending the agreement against a backlash from conservatives, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the conservative wing's influential Republican Study Committee.

Conservatives are upset that the package provides less than the GOP's promised $100 billion in reductions, as well as the compromise's failure to defund the healthcare overhaul law and Planned Parenthood. As a result, Boehner will probably be forced to rely on Democrats to pass the bill, many observers believe.

Jeremy Konyndyk, a director at Mercy Corps, protested the reductions in foreign aid and United Nations peacekeeping missions.

"We're disappointed," he said, "especially given all that we see happening in the world right now that cries out for U.S. engagement."

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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