Md., Va. senators prepare to fight proposed cuts to area programs

Jolted to action by deficit-conscious newcomers, the Republican-controlled House passed sweeping legislation early Saturday to cut $61 billion from hundreds of federal programs. (Feb 19)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 10:06 PM

When U.S. senators return to Capitol Hill next week to decide how to deal with a House-passed budget-cutting bill, the neighbors will be watching closely.

The House measure, which proposes to slice more than $60 billion in federal spending, would be particularly acute in the Washington area. The flow of federal money into local coffers would be curtailed, and policy changes opposed by many regional officials could become mandates.

If enacted, the House bill would cut $150 million from the Metro system's budget for capital projects. It would block the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing its sweeping plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. It would slice $80 million from the District's budget for courts, schools and other programs. And it would re-impose controversial "riders" preventing the District from spending its money on needle-exchange programs and abortions for low-income women.

More broadly, the House bill's proposed funding levels could require layoffs for thousands of federal employees, many of whom live in the Washington region.

Every House Republican from Maryland and Virginia voted for the budget measure, saying deep cuts are needed to get the deficit under control. But all four senators from the two states are Democrats, and they said they will try to prevent many of those provisions from making it through their chamber into law.

Whatever spending deal is struck among Democrats, Republicans and President Obama is almost certain to contain some budget cuts, so area lawmakers may have to pick their battles. At this point, local senators sound most determined to preserve funding for Metro.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said he would "find it difficult to accept" any cuts, because that could imperil the careful funding balance that has been established for Metro in which the federal contribution of $150 million is matched by $50 million each from the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said that "it's essential that we keep our federal commitment, because it isn't just $150 million. Cutting that would mean a loss of $300 million for Metro, because the local contributions are tied to the federal."

Some area Republicans, including Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, also have said they oppose the cut to Metro funding.

Angela Gates, a spokeswoman for Metro, said that "federal funding is absolutely vital to Metro's work." The capital budget is used to replace old rail cars, repair tracks and maintain overall safety standards.

Cardin also called blocking funding for the bay cleanup "a non-starter. I'll do everything I can to make sure the [EPA] programs are defended."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who serves as vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, added the amendment that would prevent the EPA, for the next seven months, from going forward with its plan to require six states and the District to reduce pollution in the bay by specific amounts by 2025.

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