Senate appropriators draw 2012 battle lines over programs to cut

Senate appropriators on Wednesday approved a broad spending outline for 2012 that sets up clashes with House appropriators over which federal programs will be cut.

The allocations point to a big struggle over foreign aid and defense spending, with smaller skirmishes over domestic funds.

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Under the terms of the August deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, $7 billion must be trimmed from 2012 spending, with half of the cuts coming from “security” funding, which includes homeland security, foreign aid, the State Department and the Pentagon.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday determined how the $1.043 trillion in spending is to be divided among the 12 appropriations bills. Twenty-nine members voted for the allocations, with only Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) voting no.

The committee levied the biggest cuts on the State Department and the foreign aid budget, trimmed by $3.5 billion to $44.6 billion. Defense spending is frozen at $513 billion next fiscal year, the same as 2011.

House Republicans have not decided how they are going to split up the spending, but aides say the six bills that have passed the House will not be revised prior to negotiations with the Senate.

Before the debt-ceiling deal, the House GOP moved a bill cutting $5 billion more from State and foreign aid and adding $17 billion more for Defense than was spent in 2011. The House passed those bills under the assumption that overall spending would be decreased by $24 billion this year.

Given the new fiscal reality, it is likely House appropriators will push for deeper State cuts and more Defense spending this fall.

In addition to the difference in amounts, the House bills contain dozens of policy riders that would limit regulations from the Obama administration. Senate Democrats are expected to reject them.

The differences between the chambers mean that there is no way to complete the appropriations process before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) acknowledged that on Wednesday when he said he is looking to move a temporary spending bill the week of Sept. 19 to fund the government as differences are worked out.

To find the remaining $3.5 billion it is charged with cutting, the Senate Appropriations panel decided to give a nearly equal haircut to the other nonsecurity bills.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ala.) revealed his Transportation bill for 2012 on Wednesday, spending $55.15 billion — just $100 million less than the Senate is seeking for the bill.

For the Senate’s other bills, Agriculture is cut by $141 million; Commerce is cut by $625 million; Energy is cut by $57 million; Financial Services is cut by $222 million; Homeland Security is cut by $666 million; Interior and Environment is cut by $284 million; Labor is cut by $300 million; the legislative branch is cut by $234 million; and military construction is cut by $618 million.

The allocations won the approval of Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who called them “equitable” before voting in favor.

Committee Republicans did not object to the way disaster funding is not offset by other spending cuts in the bill.

The allocations add $5.5 billion total for disasters above the spending cap, without offsets. Under the debt-ceiling deal, $11.3 billion can be added for disasters. The $5.5 billion in funding is split among the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the Agriculture Department.

It remains unclear how many conservative Republicans outside of the committee will oppose the allocations on the Senate floor. Some conservatives might fight the cuts on the grounds that they do not exceed the reductions in the debt-ceiling deal. That agreement cuts $2.1 trillion over 10 years, which disappointed some Republicans who wanted at least $9 trillion to be axed.

In the House, Cantor has been working to stave off any rebellion in his caucus over the $1.043 trillion spending cap in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown that could sour voters on the GOP.

Cantor urged his caucus last month to support the overall spending allocation. His strategy on fighting for riders in the bills, including those limiting the Environmental Protection Agency, has not yet been revealed.