WASHINGTON – A House panel voted Tuesday to cut space, environment and science programs next year, including giving President Bush 7 percent less than the $16.2 billion he proposed for NASA (search).
The cuts, including deep reductions in the funds Bush wants to prepare for manned missions to the Moon and Mars, were imposed in a wide-ranging $92.9 billion measure that also finances veterans programs. The savings helped lawmakers finance a $2 billion increase for veterans health care, to $30.3 billion, underscoring Congress' determination to provide such money at a time of war.
"The choices have been brutally fair," said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., chief author of the legislation. Citing federal deficits (search) that have spun to record levels, he added, "We've tried to do the best we could."
Of the 13 annual spending measures lawmakers are writing for 2005, the bill was the most vivid example yet of the budget pressures the Republican-run Congress is confronting. Even lawmakers' coveted earmarks — projects they win for their home districts — were cut by 2 percent from last year's levels, Walsh said.
"The budget crunch we all knew was coming has finally arrived," said Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Walsh is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee that oversees veterans, environment, housing and science. The panel approved the measure by voice vote — but not without complaints from Democrats about the spending limits Republicans have voted to impose on Congress.
"This year I think it's going to be very clear it's becoming excruciating, if not unacceptable," said Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, top Democrat on the subcommittee.
Even the increase for veterans fell $1.3 billion below the total desired, veterans groups and the GOP-led House Veterans' Affairs Committee said.
"There's very little good that can be said about" the bill, said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would get $15.1 billion next year, $229 million below this year and $1.1 billion below Bush's request.
Just $372 million was provided out of the $910 million Bush wanted for initial preparations for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.
That included just one-fourth of the $520 million he proposed for the crew exploration vehicle (search), which NASA envisions as the eventual replacement for the space shuttle.
The space station would get $1.7 billion, $100 million less than the president wanted. The space shuttle would get the full $4.3 billion Bush proposed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (search) would get $7.8 billion next year. That is $600 million below this year's total, and $36 million less than Bush sought.
The National Science Foundation (search) would receive $5.5 billion, $111 million below this year's level and $278 million below Bush's request.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development would get $37.7 billion, $1 billion more than Bush proposed but $108 million below this year. Lawmakers ignored Bush proposals to cut programs including rural housing and cleanups of urban hazardous waste sites.
The Senate has yet to write its version of the bill.