WASHINGTON - Republicans controlling the U.S. House moved Monday to give the Pentagon more money for military readiness while easing the pain felt by such agencies as the FBI and the Border Patrol from the across-the-board spending cuts that are just starting to take effect.
The effort is part of a huge spending measure that would fund day-to-day federal operations through September — and head off a potential government shutdown later this month.
The measure would leave in place automatic cuts of 5 per cent to domestic agencies and 7.8 per cent to the Pentagon ordered by President Barack Obama Friday night after months of battling with Republicans over the budget.
Both Democrats and Republicans for months have warned the cuts are draconian and would slow the growth of the economy and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for instance, says they would slow the economy by 0.6 per cent and cost about 750,000 jobs.
The new House Republicans' legislation would award the Defence and Veterans Affairs departments their detailed 2013 budgets while other agencies would be frozen at 2012 levels — and then bear the across-the-board cuts.
The impact of the new cuts was proving slow to reach the broader public as Obama convened the first Cabinet meeting of his second term to discuss next steps.
The Pentagon did say it would furlough thousands of military school teachers around the world and close stores with consumer goods an extra day each week. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the spending cuts were causing delays in customs lines at airports including Los Angeles International and O'Hare International in Chicago.
Obama said he was continuing to seek out Republican partners to reach a deal to ease or head off the cuts, but there was no sign that a breakthrough was in the works to reverse them.
"We are going to manage it the best we can to minimize the impact on American families," the president told reporters at the start of the first Cabinet meeting of his second term. "It is not the right way to go about deficit reduction."
The new Republican funding measure is set to advance through the House on Wednesday. It is aimed at preventing a government shutdown when a six-month spending bill passed last September runs out March 27.
The latest measure would provide an increase for military operations and maintenance efforts as well as veterans' health programs but would put most the rest of the government on budget autopilot.
After accounting for the across-the-board cuts, domestic agencies would face reductions exceeding 5 per cent when compared with last year. But Republicans would carve out a host of exemptions seeking to protect certain functions and to provide new funding for embassy security and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The FBI and the Border Patrol would be able to maintain current staffing levels and would not have to furlough employees.
The legislation would provide about $2 billion more than the current level to increase security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions worldwide. Last September, a terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The across-the-board cuts would carve $85 billion in spending from the government's $3.6 trillion budget for this year, concentrating the cuts in the approximately $1 trillion allocated to the day-to-day agency operating budgets set by Congress each year. Those so-called discretionary accounts received big boosts in the first two years of Obama's presidency when Democrats controlled Congress but have borne the brunt of the cuts approved as Obama and Republicans have grappled over the budget.