WASHINGTON – A House panel on Wednesday moved to cut the foreign aid budget by some 9 percent, targeting economic aid and contributions to the United Nations and the World Bank.
Despite the cuts, the legislation won bipartisan backing from the Appropriations foreign aid panel, though it's sure to draw a White House veto threat because it's in line with a broader GOP spending plan that breaks faith with last summer's budget and debt pact with President Barack Obama.
The panel maintains aid to Israel and Egypt at the administration's requests but denies $800 million that was requested for a special fund for training and equipping Pakistan's military in counterinsurgency tactics. The move appears to reflect wariness on the part of lawmakers toward the government of Pakistan, which failed to find Osama bin Laden for years until the U.S. military killed him a year ago.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., accused Pakistan of "harboring a fugitive" and likened the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to a "bad marriage."
Given the animosity toward Pakistan, the $800 million request for counterinsurgency efforts was an easy target, though the measure would permit transfers from other accounts to make up for some or all of the shortfall.
"It is a difficult relationship," said Rep. Kay Granger, the foreign aid measure's lead author.
The measure would also boost funding to help Mexico and Colombia fight drug cartels. But lawmakers denied the administration's request for $770 million to support political and economic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of last year's Arab Spring anti-government uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.
The $48 billion measure won voice vote approval by the panel, including the committee's senior Democratic member, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, who's supporting an early set of spending bills despite a blanket veto threat from the White House. The administration's threat comes in response to a move orchestrated by GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to cut $19 billion from the $1 trillion-plus set aside for agency budgets.
A separate panel approved a measure cutting the Department of Homeland Security's budget by about 1 percent, with the Transportation Security Administration absorbing the biggest cuts. Agencies like the Customs Service and the Coast Guard won increases over Obama's requests, and the panel included $6 billion for the government's main fund for disaster relief. Grants to state and local governments for first responders would be increased by $416 million over current levels.
Meanwhile, the full House continued debating a $51 billion measure setting the operating budget for the Commerce and Justice departments. A late night was expected as conservatives peppered the measure with conservative policy prescriptions such as blocking the Justice Department from enforcing Obama's 2010 health care law.
In rapid succession Wednesday evening, Republicans also muscled through on near party-line votes provisions designed to prevent the Justice Department from taking legal action against state laws requiring voter identification and stop the Census Bureau from conducting detailed, long-form surveys that many lawmakers find to be unnecessarily intrusive.
Republicans were successful Tuesday night in a 238-173 vote to block the Justice Department from participating in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of new tough state immigration laws, including those of Arizona and Alabama.
The measure is the first of 12 annual appropriations bills to hit the House floor as GOP leaders have front-loaded the process with measures that have won bipartisan backing in the Appropriations panel. It's unclear how much support the measures will get from the broader Democratic membership.