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MANAGING BILLIONS Legislators shuffle funds to fit personal priorities



Published: Sat, June 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Congress is cutting billions from Bush's top targets.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is switching billions of dollars from President Bush's military and foreign aid budgets to popular domestic programs he wanted to cut or eliminate.

Just six weeks ago, the House and Senate passed a budget plan that mostly mirrored Bush's, forecasting cuts averaging 1 percent from domestic agencies, including the Energy, Education and Agriculture departments.

But the Capitol Hill spending barons who are putting the budget blueprint into law, through 11 appropriations bills, are pulling out old tricks to squeeze money from the president's priorities and devote it instead to their own, especially with grants to state and local governments and, of course, hometown projects.

Bush's spending targets for foreign aid and the Defense and State departments are being whacked by billions of dollars in the process. It's an open secret that the Pentagon cuts will probably be restored through emergency funding that's supposed to pay for the war in Iraq.

Domestic spending

Even with the sleight of hand, domestic spending is far short of what Democrats want. The bills specify how much will be spent where from Oct. 1 this year through the following Sept. 30, just a month before the 2006 elections. Despite their objections, Democrats are voting for the bills rather than putting hometown projects at risk by casting "nay" votes.

Two years ago, in a bitter episode, Republicans denied hundreds of Democratic requests for grants to local health centers and colleges after they opposed the health and education spending bill.

"When you vote your conscience in this Congress on appropriations measures ... there are reprisals," said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.

Overwhelming rejection

Lawmakers in both parties are overwhelmingly rejecting Bush's proposals to help pay for homeland security with a new $3 tax on airline tickets and to help fund veterans programs by making those who are financially better off pay $250 up front for health care.

The bills at stake total $843 billion and finance every federal agency. The rest of the $2.6 trillion budget goes for automatically paid benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, as well as interest on the $7.8 trillion national debt.

The biggest loser in the money shuffle is Bush's request for an 11 percent increase in foreign aid. Bush asked for a more than $3.3 billion increase atop the $19.5 billion being spent this year. The House instead gave him only a $725 million increase. Lawmakers also cut the State Department's budget by $252 million from what it's spending this year.

The Pentagon spending bill before the House this week is $3.3 billion below the $367 billion Bush sought. The 1 percent cut is probably illusory since it's in operations and maintenance accounts that will get replenished later with supplementary funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.




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