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White House promises veto of GOP spending plan that would ease some sequester cuts, chop elsewhere

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2013, following after meeting with congressional leaders regarding the automatic spending cuts.
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2013, following after meeting with congressional leaders regarding the automatic spending cuts.
Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House stepped in Monday with a veto threat against a House GOP plan to advance a round of 2014 spending bills that would ease sequester-imposed cuts on the Pentagon while forcing even deeper cuts on non-defense programs.

Those cuts would come in areas like education, energy and water development and foreign aid.

In a statement, the White House budget office said the cuts called for in the GOP plan would force thousands of poor children off of Head Start, harm special education, cut federal law enforcement and dent medical research grants to thousands of scientists. It called on the Democratic Senate and GOP House to reach a broader agreement on the budget before advancing spending bills.

The veto promise comes as the House is set this week to consider the first of 12 spending bills for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. The first measure totals $73 billion and awards a 3.5 percent increase for veterans programs while cutting construction costs at military bases. The House is also slated to debate and pass a $39 billion measure this week boosting the Homeland Security Department's budget by almost $1 billion compared with current levels.

Democrats and the White House don't have a problem with the substance of the first two bills. Rather they oppose the overall level of funding set by Republicans for the day-to-day operations of federal agencies.

The statement promised a veto of every spending bill until Washington reaches a bargain on "an overall budget framework that supports our recovery and enables sufficient investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and national security for our economy to compete in the future."

At issue is the almost $1 trillion portion of the $3.6 trillion federal budget that must be approved by Congress each year. This so-called discretionary spending has been cut sharply with the imposition in March of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The Pentagon is absorbing cuts of 7 percent this year and domestic discretionary programs are bearing a 5 percent cut from last year's levels.

Hopes are fading for a budget bargain that would replace the cuts, which leaves lawmakers stuck with even bigger cuts for the upcoming year. Appropriated funding for the ongoing budget year totals $984 billion; the House measures total $967 billion, an almost 2 percent cut below already austere current spending.

Under a 2011 budget deal, the panel was supposed to receive almost $1.06 trillion for the 12 appropriations bills; the House panel is instead stuck with $967 billion under the across-the-board cuts imposed because Congress and President Barack Obama were unable to follow up the 2011 deal with further deficit cuts. The Democratic figures are $91 billion higher, a 9 percent increase from current levels.

Obama and Senate Democrats support advancing the annual spending bills at the higher levels called for under the hard-fought 2011 bargain, replacing the cuts with a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. But conservatives controlling the House insist that the spending bills be written at the post-sequestration cap of $967 billion.

The GOP plan opposed by Obama restores cuts to the military while making cuts to domestic programs favored by Democrats even deeper. The deepest cuts — almost 20 percent — would come from a huge domestic spending bill that funds aid to local school districts, health research and enforcement of labor laws. Cuts to housing, foreign aid, transportation and community development grants would be severe, though a popular program that provides food aid to pregnant women and their babies is likely to emerge intact.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., appears to be embarking on a strategy to advance a handful of the annual spending bills by funding them at levels closer to Obama's budget than the tea party budget that passed the House in March. GOP conservatives have balked at such moves in the past, saying they're a trick aimed at boosting spending, but some Democrats were willing to give Rogers the benefit of the doubt by voting for the veterans and homeland security measures during Appropriations Committee consideration last month.

Neither the House nor the Senate are likely to have much luck in advancing the measures very far unless a broader deal is made.