- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Republicans Tuesday proposed cuts to community health centers, national service, and grants to help children from low- and moderate-income families attend preschool as they unveiled the largest domestic appropriations bill, a $153 billion measure that’s sure to attract a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

The author of the bill, Roy Blunt of Missouri, instead boosted the budget for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion while awarding small increases to large programs giving grants to states for low-income school districts and special-needs children. Democrats said the measure, which cuts almost $15 billion from Obama’s budget request for programs covered by it, is woefully inadequate and has no chance of advancing far until a budget deal provides more money.

The sweeping labor, health and education bill is among 12 annual spending measures funding agency operating budgets for the upcoming budget year. The measure is $3.6 billion below current levels, which forced Blunt to make large cuts. He would cut the agency responsible for running the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid by 28 percent, impose a $400 million cut to community health centers, and cut the Centers for Disease Control by $251 million, or 4 percent.

“This bill would make deep cuts to middle-class priorities like health care, education, job training, worker protection programs, women’s health, and more,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Earlier Tuesday, another appropriations panel moved to slash almost $1 billion from a program that helps state and local governments provide affordable housing even as it spared Amtrak from cuts recommended by House Republicans.

The sponsor of that $56 billion legislation funding transportation and housing programs, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the cuts to the HOME Investment Partnerships Program were necessary to prevent reductions to a housing rental voucher program for the poor that serves 4.5 million individuals and families. Only $66 million would be available for the HOME program for the upcoming budget year, which Democrats said could result in about 40,000 fewer units being made available in the upcoming budget year.

At the same time, Collins said, the measure preserves $500 million in funding for transportation grants that have roots in President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill. The measure rejects House-sought cuts to Amtrak and actually would add $53 million above its current budget to lift the passenger system’s funding to almost $1.7 billion.

Collins touted provisions to require the Transportation Department to quickly finalize rules to require truckers to use electronic logging devices to record their hours on the road and to force it to propose rules requiring devices known as speed governors to prevent trucks from flouting the speed limit.

“These rulemakings will go a long way to increasing the level of safety on our nation’s roadways,” Collins said.

Democrats praised Collins for her efforts but said the transportation and housing bill simply doesn’t contain enough money.

“Neglecting transportation and public housing responsibilities at the federal level overburdens states and local communities and leads to more congestion, pollution and job losses,” said top Appropriations Committee Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

The measures are the latest of the 12 annual spending bills to begin their advance in the Senate but, like the others, are caught in crossfire between Republicans controlling Congress and Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats are using their filibuster power to hold up the spending bills hoping the impasse will drive Republicans to the negotiating table and agree to increases for domestic programs matching those for the Pentagon.

House Democratic leaders Tuesday sent Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a letter requesting bipartisan budget talks. Instead the GOP-dominated House is going ahead with a floor debate on a deeply partisan measure that slashes the Environmental Protection Agency and tries to curb its moves on global warming, clean water rules and other environmental initiatives.

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