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For Sandy relief, House to consider further cuts in agency spending

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The House could vote as soon as Tuesday to cut spending in many federal programs by nearly 2 percent as a way of paying for Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.

The measure is an amendment to the relief bill that would impose a 1.63 percent cut on discretionary spending programs for the remainder of the current fiscal year, through Sept. 30. The cut would not apply to mandatory spending, such as benefits under entitlement programs, although it would affect the accounts that pay employee salaries and other costs of administering those programs.

The main sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) has said that the costs of the relief bill should be offset by savings rather than added to the deficit. On Monday the House Rules Committee cleared the proposal for a vote when the House considers the bill.

Federal agencies already face the threat of cuts of 8 percent to 10 percent in many of the same programs starting in March, unless political leaders prevent a sequestration. The Office of Management and Budget on Monday told agencies to ramp up their preparations for cuts by considering steps such as limiting hiring, imposing unpaid furloughs and restricting spending on contracts.

“This is extraordinarily unwise public policy and, if pursued, would result in severe cuts in an array of vital services Americans want and depend upon and that have a direct positive impact on the quality of their lives,” National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement opposing the amendment.

Another proposal from Mulvaney, to cut off agency subsidies for their employees who take mass transit to commute to work, will not come to a vote. That benefit recently rose from a maximum of $125 to $240 per month.

The Senate is out of session this week but could take up its disaster relief bill as soon as next week.