House plays “chicken” with budget votes; seeks huge cuts in current year

The U.S. House of Representatives over the weekend passed a $1.2 trillion budget for the current Fiscal Year (FY 2011)—a budget that is $61 billion smaller than the FY 2010 budget and one that includes significant cuts likely to impact the LGBT community and “massive” cuts to programs for people with HIV.

The almost completely partisan vote, led by the Republican majority, stands little chance of being sustained in the Democratic-controlled Senate or by President Barack Obama.

Many political observers likened it to Republicans playing a game of “chicken” with the president and the Senate, with the moment of truth coming when a temporary budget for FY 2011 (known as a “continuing resolution”) expires on Friday, March 4. The Congress must either come up with another continuing resolution or a final FY 2011 budget; otherwise, the government will be without the funds to operate.

But the House bill cuts were already easing off the pedal by the time they passed on a 235 to 189 vote at 4:30 a.m. Saturday. More conservative Republicans had threatened to cut the budget by $100 billion.

Republicans say the cuts are necessary to fight a dangerously high deficit between what the government brings in in revenues and what it is spending. Democrats say the cuts are not a serious effort to reduce that deficit and, instead, will endanger the lives and well-being of the nation’s poorest citizens, while continuing to deliver tax breaks to its wealthiest.

One government-funding watchdog, OMBWatch, characterized the cuts as going after the federal budget with a “chainsaw,” because they involved “collapsing a year-long process into a matter of hours.” For instance, the budget for the Center for National and Community Service was cut by 90 percent, said OMBWatch, and the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was cut by 20 percent.

Carl Schmid of The AIDS Institute said the House’s proposed cuts on AIDS-related programs would have “severe ramifications to millions of people’s lives both here in the United States and around the world.”

For example, said Schmid, the cuts would reduce the money available to help people with HIV infection and low incomes obtain life-saving medications by $25 million from the FY 2010 level. AIDS activists had hoped, instead, to increase the FY 2011 budget for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) by $65 million over the FY 2011 level to help ease a growing waiting list of patients in need of such help.

The House budget also proposes significant cuts in Community Development Block Grant funding, a program to provide housing assistance to families with low incomes. Some LGBT centers around the country have been able to tap into the grants to help their clients with low incomes. President Obama’s proposed budget for FY 2012 also includes a cut in CDBG funding.

The House considered more than 400 amendments to its original budget proposal. Many of those were voted on in blocks but none dealt specifically with funding for AIDS or funding that impacted LGBT organizations directly. But the cuts are broad and deep enough to upset nearly everyone. For instance, it cut more than $272 million from border control measures and the all funding for public broadcasting.

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