House, Senate Pursue Conflicting Budget Priorities
The GOP-controlled House unveiled slashing cuts to the budget of the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, punishing the beleaguered department after it targeted tea party groups and other non-profits seeking tax-exempt status.The agency's 2014 budget would be cut by $3 billion, or 24 percent below, levels approved in March. Also, 10 percent of its budget for tax enforcement would be fenced off until the IRS implements recommendations by an agency watchdog designed to prevent further abuses.
The IRS cuts come after a wave of bad publicity for the agency including questionable spending on conferences like a lavish $4.1 million event in 2010 which included a "Star Trek" video parody and a $17,000 payment to a motivational speaker who was a painter.
President Barack Obama requested a $1 billion budget hike for the IRS.
"Right now I can't think of a federal agency in a worse position to ask for more money," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
The Appropriations Committee also revealed cuts to NASA, White House salaries, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The full House took up a $30.4 billion measure funding the Energy Department and water projects that is about $3 billion below levels enacted earlier this year. Democrats protested cuts to clean and renewable energy programs.
Democrats controlling a Senate panel, meanwhile, went in a wholly opposite direction in giving a $1.3 billion increase to the agency chiefly responsible to implement Obama's signature health care law.
At issue are the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. The GOP-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate are acting as if on different planets, with the Senate acting as though deep automatic spending cuts don't exist and the House promising even more punishing cuts to domestic programs while restoring cuts to the Pentagon.
The House is drafting spending bills in line with a $967 billion "cap" required by automatic cuts that took effect in March after Washington failed to agree on an alternative mix of tax increases and cuts elsewhere in the $3.5 trillion federal budget. The Democratic Senate is writing bills to a $1.058 trillion cap, almost a full 10 percent higher. But the House GOP cuts to domestic programs are greatly magnified by a $41 billion shift from non-defense programs like NASA, education and research on renewable energy to the Pentagon.
The result are night-and-day differences between the House and Senate spending bills illustrated most dramatically by a $164 billion Senate measure unveiled Tuesday by liberal Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa. The measure, which funds education, health and labor programs, is a full 26 percent more generous to such programs than an as-yet-unreleased House version.
So even as advocates for the poor worry about budget cuts forcing poor preschoolers from Head Start, the Senate measure promises to increase the program by $1.6 billion or about 20 percent. Health research would win a small increase, as would Title I grants to help educate disadvantaged school children.
Republicans say the Senate bills are filled with empty promises. Even if they were enacted over GOP opposition, they would be subject to across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that would bring them down to the $967 billion level embraced by Republicans. Sequestration is required because Congress and Obama have failed to follow up a 2011 budget pact with follow-up deficit cuts other than a bitterly fought tax increase on upper-bracket earners.
By contrast, the House measures revealed Tuesday are laced with painful cuts. While the FBI is exempted, NASA would absorb an almost $1 billion cut below 2013 levels. Spending on federal buildings would be cut $2.4 billion below Obama's request and the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal prison system and the Drug Enforcement Administration would also have to absorb cuts.
"At some point, there is no `doing more with less,"' said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. "There is only less."
Absent a broader agreement on the budget, the rival chambers of Congress are on a collision course facing a potential government shutdown when current-year funding runs out on Sept. 30. A shutdown is unlikely, but avoiding one would require a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running after that date.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)