WASHINGTON - With no broader budget deal in sight, a key House panel responsible for implementing sweeping cuts to agency budgets moved Wednesday to exempt veterans and largely protect spending on border safety and other homeland security programs in the coming year.
The strategy by the pragmatic House Appropriations Committee is to begin advancing a handful of its 12 yearly spending bills even as Republicans controlling the House and President Obama are at an impasse over how much to lay out on the government's day-to-day operations. Sweeping across-the-board spending cuts are taking hold for the ongoing 2013 budget year, pinching both the Pentagon and domestic cabinet departments.
At issue in Wednesday's legislation is how to allocate cuts for the 2014 budget year beginning Oct. 1. House Republicans have approved a broader budget plan to restore cuts to the Pentagon while making cuts to domestic agencies even deeper. Democrats strongly oppose the move, saying it would mean harsh curbs on medical research, science programs, law enforcement agencies and a slew of other programs. They want to replace the cuts, known as sequestration, in their entirety.
Wednesday's developments strike a compromise. The appropriations subcommittee that oversees veterans and military construction projects approved a bill to boost funding for veterans' medical care and claims processing. Its action stuck close to President Obama's requests.
"This will be a tough budget year, and almost every area of government will be affected by the austere funding levels caused by sequestration," said Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R., Ky.). "However, this legislation prioritizes spending to protect critical programs."
Rogers also announced increases to homeland security programs like the Border Patrol in legislation to be approved by an appropriations subcommittee Thursday.