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House panel targets health, education, labor board for cuts

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House Republicans on a key spending committee have put some of President Obama's top health care and education priorities squarely in its crosshairs.

The House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health, labor and education programs made public Thursday a $153.4 billion draft fiscal year 2012 spending plan that would slash spending for the president's health care law, eliminate all funding for his "Race to the Top" education overhaul, cut funding and restrain the powers of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and cancel all federal money for National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood.

Republicans are casting their proposal as a hard but necessary step at a time of ballooning national debt and mounting doubt over lawmakers' ability to put the federal government back on firm financial footing.

"Excessive and wasteful spending over the years has put many of the programs and agencies funded in this bill on an irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican.

But Democrats on the panel quickly cried foul, accusing Republicans of wasting time on a plan that, in its current form, has little or no chance of passing the Senate, which Democrats control.

"It looks like we're in for a long, difficult process," said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

Under the Republican proposal, the Education Department would have a 2012 budget of $69 billion, $2.4 billion below fiscal 2011 levels and $11.5 billion less than what President Obama requested.

Pell Grants, which provide financial assistance to cash-strapped college students, would see significant changes. The maximum annual award of $5,550 would be maintained, but the act would eliminate funding for students who attend college "less than half time" or those who lack a high school diploma or GED. It would also cut the lifetime eligibility term from nine years to six years.

The proposal would also stop the Education Department's so-called "gainful employment" measure, which bans for-profit colleges from receiving federal funds if their students don't find work and can't pay back their loans.

Republicans are also taking aim at what they call "regulatory overreach," specifically with provisions targeting the health care law and the NLRB.

The bill prohibits "all funding for ObamaCare until … legal challenges" are settled, and slashes the NLRB's budget by $49 million. The labor agency has been the target of fierce attacks by the business community and congressional Republicans, and a number of its proposed rule changes would be blocked by the spending bill.

Democrats also criticized the process by which the bill, a draft of which was posted on the Internet Thursday, was rolled out. Ms. DeLauro complained there had been a lack of "public debate" on the measure, noting the panel was the only one of 12 House appropriations subcommittees yet to hold a formal markup of its fiscal 2012 bill.

Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said Republicans still hope to hold a markup, and previous attempts fell victim to scheduling conflicts.

"We just haven't had an opportunity yet," she said.

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