Advocates for women's rights, children and other special interests are up in arms over a House Republican plan to severely cut or "wipe out" several of their favorite federal programs, in what could develop into one of the nastiest battles of the new Congress.
"Put children first and do no harm to kids in federal appropriations," said Dr. O. Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who was alarmed by the House Appropriations Committee's proposed cuts in health care programs.
But conservatives are applauding many of federal family and health care programs and policies targeted in the $100 billion budget cut package.
"For years, the liberal political establishment has treated the government like an ATM, withdrawing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for causes that Washington has no business funding," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Republicans are putting people "on a forced fast," he said.
The budget cuts were released late Friday night by the House Appropriations Committee, led by Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican. The 359-page Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act reduces and even zeroes out funding to hundreds of programs for the rest of fiscal 2011 as a way to start closing a $1.6 trillion federal deficit.
But the document has more than a few far-reaching provisions amounting to major shifts in federal policy: It asks, for instance, that "no funds" be provided to the $317 million Title X federal family-planning program for the rest of the fiscal year.
"The 'middle ground' on abortion is family planning — helping women (and couples) prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place," and yet the House Appropriations Committee is seeking to "wipe out" all the Title X funding, James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said in an urgent letter to allies.
"House Republicans are revealing … their utter contempt for women's programs and their lack of concern for children in these inhumane so-called budget cuts," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, referring to the Title X cuts plus millions of dollars more in domestic violence and maternal and child health care programs.
The bill contains no money for the Obama administration's $110 million program to prevent teen pregnancy, garnering a swift protest from Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
"The proposed cuts in efforts to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy for the current year are fiscally irresponsible, short-sighted, at odds with the wishes of the American public, and put at risk the great progress the nation has made in preventing too-early pregnancy and parenthood," Mrs. Brown said.
Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said one of the "most egregious" cuts was a $1.1 billion reduction from the $7.2 billion Head Start program.
Such a loss would leave Head Start "more than $500 million below FY2008," put thousands of Head Start teachers out of work and kick more than 200,000 children across the country out of the program, Mr. Dicks said.
How can American children compete in the world "when life-saving programs are ripped from beneath the very feet we expect to carry us forward?" asked Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association.
However, other observers say these kinds of cuts are inevitable, given the years of heavy federal spending.
The Head Start program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) feeding program, which is slated to lose about $747 million of its $7 billion budget, are "properly" run by states, said Chris Edwards, editor of the Cato Institute's downsizinggovernment.org.
These massive programs are "problematic," he said: A landmark study found that Head Start had little or no impact on student achievement, and the WIC program is a major purveyor of baby formula to poor mothers even as public health officials relentlessly promote breast-feeding to them.
Given the necessity of cutting the budget, he added, these kinds of programs are "going to be squeezed out" in a few years because they're "not core federal responsibilities. … I think advocates [for social services] should start trying to find other funding."
The House is expected to take a vote on the appropriations act, possibly as early as Thursday, but faces a difficult road in the Senate, where Democrats still are in the majority.
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