WASHINGTON – A Senate committee on Thursday cut President Bush's request for the State Department and foreign aid by more than $2 billion and shifted the money to flood control, sewer grants, border security and other programs.
The moves are likely to meet with resistance from the White House. The administration objects to such shifts and to a $9 billion cut to Bush's Pentagon budget request, with that money restoring proposed trims in domestic programs.
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill that supports the president's plans to explore Mars and increase spending on research and encouraging science professionals to enter teaching.
This bill passed after three days of debate that touched on everything from medical marijuana laws to the Pacific Northwest's salmon fishery. Along the way, House lawmakers endorsed the Supreme Court's ruling to permit evidence seized in violation of long-standing "knock and announce" rules and backed bilingual ballots for people whose native language is not English.
The bill covers the annual budgets of the departments of Commerce, State and Justice, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The measure is the 10th of 11 annual spending bills to pass the House in a tight budget climate where lawmakers bemoan cuts across a wide spectrum of programs. This comes even as GOP core voters worry that Congress plays fast and loose with taxpayers' money.
In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee is just starting to move ahead on its versions of the spending bills.
The committee on Thursday approved:
—a $30.7 billion measure that funds the Energy Department and flood control projects.
—a $31.5 billion measure covering foreign aid and State Department programs.
—a $26.1 billion bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
—the $32.8 billion budget for the Homeland Security Department.
All signs point to a lame-duck session after the November election because Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has yet to set aside time for the full Senate to consider any spending bills.
The Homeland Security Department, on paper, would get a $700 million budget boost above President Bush's budget plan. But the bill actually translates into a $500 million cut below his request because lawmakers again rejected $1.2 billion in revenues from a proposed increase in airline ticket taxes. The White House wanted to use that money to defray the Transportation Security Administration's budget.
The energy and water projects bill includes $380 million to put in place last year's energy bill, with increases for alternative technologies such as solar energy, biomass and geothermal.
The bill would pay for temporary sites to store nuclear waste for up to 25 years as delays continue at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.
The Senate's foreign aid bill cuts from $3 billion to $2 billion Bush's request for a program designed to reward developing nations for good governance and a commitment to democracy.
The bill also includes $3.4 billion for programs to battle HIV/AIDS overseas.
The Commerce, Justice and State bill passed by a 393-23 vote. It contains $700 million for Mars exploration, the bulk of which would go to several unmanned missions. Bush, in January 2004, pledged that the United States would return humans to the moon by 2020 and ultimately launch manned flights to Mars and beyond.
The bill gives Bush the money he wants to do that, but grants to state and local law enforcement agencies would be cut for the sixth consecutive year.
On Wednesday, lawmakers approved $2 million for salmon fishermen suffering from a curtailed season because the government is limiting their catch. That was far less than the $81 million West Coast lawmakers want, but they hope to win more later.
Lawmakers also voted to continue to allow federal prosecution of people who smoke marijuana for medical purposes in states with laws that permit it.
In addition, despite the opposition of more than two-thirds of Republicans, the House affirmed the right of voters in areas with large populations of non-English-speaking people to cast ballots in their native language..