Bay Cleanup Cuts, Boosts Elsewhere
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
President Bush's proposed budget would cut spending on Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts but provide the biggest increase in five years to the District and help Northern Virginia's federal contractors by boosting defense spending, lawmakers said yesterday.
The capital region's economy as a whole would benefit from increases in military and homeland security spending, lawmakers predicted. They cited the critical role such programs play in the region, where one-third of the economy is federal spending, with the highest share in Northern Virginia.
At the same time, however, cuts in domestic programs could hurt the area's most vulnerable populations, some local members of Congress warned.
"If you're a millionaire without school-age children, this is the perfect budget for you because you're going to save thousands of dollars in additional tax cuts and you'll have your kids going to private school," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.).
The proposed budget eliminates some Medicaid programs, including health screening for newborns, which Moran said would affect low-income immigrants in his district and elsewhere. "It means those parents have to wait until the child comes down with a serious illness to go to an emergency room," he said.
Area lawmakers applauded the proposal for a 2.2 percent salary increase for both federal civilian employees and military personnel.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said the budget was good news for the region on several fronts, including transportation. The budget proposes $26 million to extend Metrorail through Tysons Corner to Dulles International Airport, a major transportation project for Northern Virginia.
The National Science Foundation, based in Arlington, would receive a $78 million increase. But the National Institutes of Health, headquartered in Bethesda, would receive the same level of funding as fiscal 2006, which was $62 million less than the previous fiscal year, lawmakers said.
The budget also includes $178.5 million to consolidate Food and Drug Administration facilities at the federal research center at White Oak, the largest request in the eight-year history of the project, according to a spokesman for House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)
D.C. leaders praised the budget plan, saying the city's share of federal largesse would jump from $103 million last year to $143 million.
"This is a 40 percent increase at a time when most domestic discretionary programs are getting whacked. So this is a good number for us," said Gregory M. McCarthy, the mayor's liaison to Capitol Hill.
The budget includes $50 million for two new projects in the city -- $20 million to upgrade the Navy Yard Metro station and $30 million for improvements for the aging library system. The money to upgrade the Metro station dovetails with the city's plan to build a baseball stadium nearby. The number of federal employees in offices nearby is expected to rise, said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
The White House is also proposing to provide full funding for the city's public school choice initiative, which supports vouchers, charter schools and other programs. It would also fully fund a tuition assistance program that allows D.C. residents to pay in-state rates at public universities nationwide.
Regionally, the president also proposed spending $60.5 million to have the U.S. Coast Guard take over air defense operations from Customs and Border Protection aviators, who have helped intercept and escort straying aircraft in the no-fly zone over the area since 2003.
The money would go to pay for five HH-65 Dolphin helicopters, based at Atlantic City but deployed to Reagan National Airport. The aircraft eventually would be armed with machine guns after the Coast Guard formally took over interdiction operations by October, Rear Adm. Steve Branham said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the change stemmed from communication breakdowns and confused lines of command in past incidents, such as an incursion May 11 in which authorities were prepared to shoot down two straying Pennsylvania pilots in a Cessna 150.
Democrats decried the president's proposed $2.8 trillion budget for fiscal 2007, accusing him of cutting critically needed housing and other social service programs to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) criticized proposals to cut funding to clean up the Chesapeake by more than $20 million and other cuts in housing and community block grants, saying they would hurt elderly and other low-income populations.
Staff writers Lori Montgomery and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.