WASHINGTON — House Republicans Monday proposed slashing cuts to environmental programs and funding for the Smithsonian Institution and the arts as they unveiled the latest legislation to implement the second year of budget cuts required under so-called sequestration.
The $24 billion spending measure would gut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency with a one-third cut and cuts the National Endowments for the Arts by almost half. Overall, the measure funding the Interior Department, EPA, national parks and federal firefighting efforts is cut by 19 percent below funding approved in March.
It takes a more modest approach to the national parks with a slight increase over levels mandated by sequestration, the across-the-board cuts forced by Washington’s failure to strike a bipartisan budget accord. And firefighting efforts would benefit from $1.5 billion in “emergency” funds on top of the spending limits set by the GOP’s austere budget plan.
The measure is the latest of 12 spending bills for the almost one-third of the federal budget funded each year by Congress in the form of day-to-day operating budgets for government agencies. Such budgets are hit the hardest by sequestration.
Republicans control the House and are insisting on living within a tight $967 billion “cap” on agency operating budgets and are shifting more than $47 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon — which runs counter to a 2011 budget agreement. The restoration of money to the Defense Department would force austere cuts on nondefense programs like foreign aid, transit grants and community development grants sought by local officials.
Monday’s measure, along with a legislation coming to the floor later this week funding transportation and housing, are two of the GOP bills absorbing the brunt of the domestic cuts, along with a measure funding labor, health and education programs that will be revealed on Wednesday.
“Simply put, this bill makes very difficult choices in an extremely tough budget environment,” said author Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. “Within challenging budget constraints, we’ve focused on providing adequate funding to fight and prevent wildfires, making sure our national parks stay open, and meeting our trust responsibilities to American Indians.”
The measure also contains a roster of policy “riders” aimed at reining in the EPA such as language that would prohibit the agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities.
The bill is sure to be slapped with a White House veto threat and functions as a placeholder until negotiations this fall.