President Bush's proposed budget would cut efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, possibly affect thousands of defense jobs in Virginia and remove a program to improve libraries in D.C. schools, local members of Congress and staffers said yesterday.
But the capital region as a whole would benefit from increases in military and homeland security spending, lawmakers said, both key to the booming local economy. The budget includes $165 million for military construction in Maryland, including a new facility at the Fort Detrick U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The District would receive $7 million toward a new $80 million forensics and bioterrorism laboratory.
"Our economy is so hot right now. . . . It could be hard to argue we're being hurt," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III.
(The Washington Post)
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The budget also includes $25 million to begin the design of a new headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard on the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Southeast Washington and $13 million to improve the decaying infrastructure on the 182-acre parcel.
Overall, the White House's $2.57 trillion spending plan was vehemently criticized by Democrats and drew only a lukewarm defense from local GOP members, reflecting how broadly a more austere budget could affect local communities.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said Congress would make many changes before approving the budget. "There are some programs being hit. Some of them ought to be consolidated. Doing that, I think, is good," he said. He played down the impact of the cuts.
"Our economy is so hot right now," Davis said. "Unemployment in Fairfax County is 1.4, 1.5 percent. It could be hard to argue we're being hurt."
Democrats from House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) down attacked the president's proposal to cut or eliminate 150 programs as part of a strategy to reduce the deficit by half over the next four years.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) released a three-page list outlining the proposed cuts in Maryland, including $19 million in loans and grants to clean the bay; $6 million in community policing funds to hire 21 officers; and reduced funding that will delay completion of a consolidated White Oak headquarters for the Food and Drug Administration for another year, to 2010.
"They are attacking from all sides the programs that meet the day-to-day needs of Maryland's working families," said Sarbanes, who blamed the situation on "excessive tax cuts pushed by the Bush administration."
On education, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the president's budget falls $312 million short of full funding in Maryland for two federal education programs, No Child Left Behind and special education. He said that Bush "dressed up" proposals for community health programs while making larger cuts in the Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and elderly.
"This is a very misleading budget," Van Hollen said. "The president provides a little bit with one hand but takes away a lot with the other."
Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) said community development block grants would be cut 50 percent, while federal grants for Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs would be eliminated. Prince George's County received $733,000 last year for the schools programs, he said, and Montgomery County $627,000.
"It's a contradictory position, and it's incoherent policy," Wynn said. "On one hand, he wants to do all these anti-gang initiatives to help young people, then he cuts Safe and Drug Free Schools."
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) called the budget "shortsighted, selfish and irresponsible," citing cuts in Medicaid, vocational education and public housing. "Social programs for low-income people account for only 6 percent of the budget deficit, yet it looks as though they're being asked to shoulder almost 100 percent of the budget cuts. That's what's so unfair," Moran said.
Sen. John R. Warner (D), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, defended a proposal that would retire the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. But Warner and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) challenged those who are proposing to move one of five Hampton Roads-based aircraft carriers to Florida to take the Kennedy's place, a change that could cost the state $1 billion and 14,000 jobs.
"I'm going to try to support the president's budget," Warner said, adding that "there will be efforts by many people to unravel parts of this budget."
Local members of Congress said they would fight again to restore "pay parity" for civilian federal employees, a perennial battle, after Bush proposed raising pay for the military by 3.5 percent while limiting the average increase for other federal workers to 2.3 percent.
One Republican aide noted that presidential budgets are always dead on arrival in Congress, and even the most loyal Republicans declined to go into much detail about the White House plans. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, focused his attention on the pay raise issue, for example.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) thanked the president for adding $6 million to pay for Medicaid costs for children in foster care. But she warned that moving the headquarters of the Coast Guard to St. Elizabeths shows that the government will be looking to consolidate security agencies there. The District is hoping to redevelop the site into a residential and commercial hub.
Norton said the Medicaid change was needed because of an error in 1997 when Congress increased reimbursement rates to the District except for the foster care program. "It has been an expensive mistake that has cost D.C. taxpayers millions of dollars," Norton said.
Separately, Bush's budget omitted $5 million included by Congress last year to support a matching fund to upgrade D.C. elementary school libraries.