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GOP budget proposal softens spending cuts

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 9:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling the House moved on Monday to ease a crunch in Pentagon readiness while limiting the pain felt by agencies such as the FBI and the Border Patrol from across-the-board fund adjustments that are 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 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon ordered by President Obama on Friday night from months of battling with Republicans over the budget. But the House Republicans' legislation would award the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments their detailed 2013 budgets, giving those agencies more flexibility on where money is spent, while other agencies would be frozen at 2012 levels — and then bear the across-the-board cuts.

The impact of the 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 commissaries an extra day each week.

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.

The new GOP funding measure is set to advance through the House on Thursday. It's aimed at preventing a government shutdown when a six-month spending bill passed last September runs out March 27.

The latest measure would provide a $10 billion increase for military operations and maintenance efforts and a boost for veterans' health programs but would put most the rest of the government on budget autopilot. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would be cut to $87 billion — down from $115 billion last year — reflecting ongoing troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

“It is clear that this nation is facing some very hard choices, and it's up to Congress to pave the way for our financial future,” said bill sponsor Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “But right now, we must act quickly and try to make the most of a difficult situation. This bill will fund essential federal programs and services, help maintain our national security, and take a potential shutdown off the table.

Senate Democrats want to add more detailed budgets for domestic Cabinet agencies, but it'll take GOP help to do so. The House measure denies money sought by Obama and his Democratic allies to implement the signature 2010 laws overhauling the health care system and financial regulation.

After accounting for the across-the-board cuts, domestic agencies would face reductions exceeding 5 percent when compared with last year. But Republicans would carve out a host of exemptions seeking to protect certain functions, including federal prisons and fire-fighting efforts in the West, 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.

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