New presidential helicopter would get axed under budget

A costly new presidential helicopter program would be terminated, as well as a federal program that provides assistance to states and localities for incarcerating illegal immigrants, according to new fiscal 2010 budget details released Thursday by President Obama's administration.

They are among reductions or eliminations of 121 federal programs that are intended to save $17 billion in fiscal 2010.

Problems with the presidential helicopter program are well known. The program is six years behind schedule, and its cost has grown from $6.5 billion to over $13 billion.

More than $3.2 billion has already been spent on the program with no operational aircraft delivered. The Government Accountability Office has warned that its future costs are unknown.

"The Administration proposes to cancel it, review requirements, and establish a new program," the budget documents said. "A new Presidential Helicopter replacement program will allow the Administration to take advantage of new technologies and develop a helicopter that is fiscally responsible while still meeting the President's requirements."

The budget requests $85 million for the program in fiscal 2010 to cover termination costs.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program is a formula grant program that provides assistance to states and localities for correctional officer salary costs incurred for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens. The program received $400 million in fiscal 2009.

The budget instead proposes "a comprehensive border enforcement strategy that supports resources for a comprehensive approach to enforcement along the Nation's borders that combines law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts to investigate arrest, detain, and prosecute illegal immigrants and other criminals."

Obama also proposes to eliminate $145 million in fiscal 2009 earmarks targeted by lawmakers to specific communities to funds water infrastructure projects.

"This approach to funding projects duplicates funding available through more effective formula allocation programs to states and bypasses the normal state prioritization process that funds the most important projects from a health and environmental standpoint," the budget documents said.

About half of the proposed overall $17 billion on savings would come from defense programs and the rest from nondefense areas of the budget.

Most of the defense cuts were announced previously by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, including canceling the F-22 Raptor program, which would save $2.9 billion in fiscal 2010.

Seeking to blunt criticism of the low $17 billion figure compared to the $3.4 trillion fiscal 2010 budget resolution Congress recently approved, the documents stressed that the proposed reductions set the right tone that there is room for reductions in the budget.

"No matter their size, these cuts and reductions are all important to setting the right priorities with our spending, getting our budget deficit under control, and creating a Government that is as efficient as it is effective," the documents said.

Republicans said they appreciated Obama's attempt to cut spending, but stressed that more needs to be done to cut mandatory spending, which makes up the lion's share of the budget.

"The most devastating and unsustainable growth is in mandatory federal spending such as Social Security and Medicare," said House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis in a statement. "Congress can and must scale back out of control mandatory spending if we are going to truly address our nation's ballooning debt and looming budget crisis."

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad praised Obama's efforts to find savings.

"This effort will help make our government more efficient, eliminate programs that aren't working, and shift resources to initiatives that benefit the middle class. It is at the heart of good government," Conrad said in a statement.

"As important as program terminations and cuts are, we should not lose sight of the far larger threat to our nation's finances -- the combination of the retiring baby boom generation, rising health care costs, and our outdated and inefficient revenue system. I look forward to working with the Obama administration and my colleagues in Congress in addressing these long-term budget challenges," Conrad said.

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