House panel approves cuts to police hiring grants

AP News
Posted: Jul 17, 2013 5:46 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans controlling a House committee moved Wednesday to eliminate funding for a Clinton-era program that helps local governments hire police officers, a step driven by deepening automatic spending cuts that official Washington appears unable to head off.

The Community Oriented Policing Services program, known as COPS, has been a resilient survivor of GOP attacks dating back to the party's takeover of Congress in 1995. The program, slated to get $440 million in President Barack Obama's budget, would instead get "zeroed out" in a spending bill to fund the Justice Department for the upcoming 2014 budget year.

The Appropriations Committee approved the cut as part of a $47 billion measure funding the operating budget for the departments of Justice and State by voice vote. The measure reflects an almost $3 billion cut from levels approved in March. The panel also approved a $17 billion measure that slashes the Internal Revenue Service budget 30 percent below Obama's request.

"Put simply, this budget proposal means fewer critical resources to detect and prevent tax fraud," said Nani Coloretti, assistant secretary for management at Treasury. "And with fewer IRS staff to complete audits, conservative estimates put the resulting revenue loss from the proposed reduction in enforcement capacity at $12 billion per year."

Democrats, meanwhile, failed in a bid to restore funding to the COPS program, which awards grants to local law enforcement agencies to hire police officers. They said the proposed GOP cuts to the program would mean 1,400 fewer cops on the beat nationwide.

But Republicans say the measure simply reflects the reality imposed by automatic budget cuts that took effects earlier this year as a result of Washington's inability to reach a budget accord. Cuts to programs such as police hiring grants enabled the bill's chief author, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., to avoid cuts to the FBI.

At issue are the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. The GOP-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have sharply different priorities, with the Senate ignoring deep automatic spending cuts and the House promising even more punishing cuts to domestic programs while restoring cuts to the Pentagon.

The House is drafting spending bills in line with a $967 billion "cap" required by automatic cuts that took effect in March after Washington failed to agree on an alternative mix of tax increases and cuts elsewhere in the $3.5 trillion federal budget. The Senate is writing bills to a $1.058 trillion cap, almost a full 10 percent higher. But the House GOP cuts to domestic programs are greatly magnified by a $41 billion shift from nondefense programs like NASA, education and research on renewable energy to the Pentagon.

The House measures approved by the Appropriations panel on Wednesday are laced with painful cuts. While the FBI is exempted, NASA would absorb an almost $1 billion cut below 2013 levels. Spending on federal buildings would be cut $2.4 billion below Obama's request and the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal prison system and the Drug Enforcement Administration would also have to absorb cuts.

On Thursday, the counterpart Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to debate a $52 billion version of the Commerce and Justice department spending bill that contains $5 billion above the House version, which allows the panel to provide $394 million for COPS grants.