Spending levels and policy provisions tied to 2016 budget spark quarrel on House committee



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WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans quarreled Wednesday over spending levels for domestic agencies as well as policy provisions on clean water rules and guns on federal lands as they kicked off action on more than $1 trillion worth of spending bills for the next budget year.

The House Appropriations Committee first approved by voice vote a $35 billion energy and water projects measure. Democrats objected to provisions that would permit the public to carry guns on Army Corps of Engineers' lands and would block new joint "Waters of the U.S." rules by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers that would define the reach of the Clean Water Act.

Republicans warned that the rules could give the EPA new powers of regulatory overreach. The GOP lawmakers have tried the two policy "riders" before, but such provisions were stripped under the threat of a veto by the White House. For now, the riders will remain in the measure after a mostly party-line vote.

Democrats on the committee also protested spending limits on domestic agency budgets as President Barack Obama's budget office weighed in for the second day in a row about the flaws it sees in the GOP spending plan. Democrats warn that additional money will be needed to successfully pass all the appropriations bills and get them signed into law. Many pragmatic-minded Republicans — like those on the committee — tend to agree, but for now the GOP is hemmed in by demands by conservatives to stick with tight "caps" on agency budgets.

The panel approved a $77 billion bill funding the Department of Veterans Affairs and construction projects on military bases and paved the way for Republicans to implement a $38 billion plan to pad overseas anti-terrorism accounts to help the Pentagon with shortfalls in areas such as weapons procurement and troop readiness.

Automatic curbs that would, on average, freeze domestic agency budgets at current levels would remain in place, however, which has the White House and its Democratic allies spoiling for a fight.

White House budget office chief Shaun Donovan wrote in a Wednesday blog post that the GOP's spending blueprint would "shortchange key priorities," especially the Internal Revenue Service budget and foreign aid accounts.

Donovan warned that the GOP plan would cut "areas important to the economy and the middle-class, ranging from research to education to environmental protection, as well as in national security priorities, ranging from peacekeeping and foreign assistance to the base defense budget."

The bipartisan veterans' measure would increase VA spending by almost 6 percent.

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