Senate subpanel advances $51.2 billion Commerce-Justice bill

Measure would restore $900 million of $1.2 billion in proposed cutbacks to Justice Department programs.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee rejected President Bush's plan to end a popular police grant program to localities Tuesday as it easily approved a $51.2 billion fiscal 2007 bill to fight crime, boost oceanic research programs, and fund space flight.

The measure (H.R. 5672) swept through the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee without dissent on a voice vote. The bill, which funds the departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA and a host of independent agencies, moves to the full committee for action on Thursday.

Bush had proposed no funds and eliminated the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, a well-liked program that gives money to localities and states to address crime programs, including the rising epidemic of methamphetamine addiction. But the panel restored $555 million for the Byrne grants, which is $143 million above this fiscal year.

In all, Bush asked for $1.2 billion in cuts in various Justice Department programs, including the Byrne aid, the so-called COPS program to help localities hire police, juvenile justice programs and help to curb violence against women. A committee source said after the meeting the committee restored $900 million of those proposed $1.2 billion cutbacks.

Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., denounced the Bush reductions as "unacceptable cuts."

The subcommittee bill counts only discretionary - not mandatory spending such as pensions and benefits. Under its accounting version, the measure is $2.2 billion over fiscal 2006 and $1.3 billion over Bush's budget request.

On June 29, the House on a 393-23 vote approved its version of this spending bill. Under its scorekeeping method, the House bill came in at $59.8 billion, so there was no immediate reconciling the difference between the House and Senate subcommittee numbers, according to a Senate staffer.

The subcommittee held off revealing its bill and accompanying report until the full committee meeting.

In a brief summary sheet, the subcommittee reported the Justice Department received $22 billion for all its programs including drug enforcement, U.S. attorneys, the U.S Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Bureau of Prisons, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A Bush proposal to cut $142 million for prison construction was restored.

The Commerce Department received $7.1 billion, including $4.4 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $536 million over this fiscal year's enacted amount. Praising NOAA's weather and ocean research to find what lurks on sea bottoms, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said "More people have gone to the moon than walked the ocean at its deepest depths."

For scientific activities, the subcommittee approved $22.7 billion. It includes $16.8 billion for NASA, which is $126 million above this year.

Mikulski said she would offer an amendment in the full committee to add at least $1 billion for space activities to make up some of the funding loss after the space shuttle Challenger disaster. She said NASA has had to borrow money from other programs to cover the cost of its return to space.

"This is a terrific bill with what we had to work with," Mikulski said.

The science account includes the full $140 million requested for the American Competitiveness Initiative to train scientists, including mathematicians and physicists to compete in the global economy.

Shelby proposed a manager's amendment, did not reveal its details. He but said it included technical changes and non-binding language proposed for the full committee report.

Besides Mikulski's amendment, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would propose an amendment in full committee to increase funding for federal legal services assistance for poor people. He said the subcommittee's $327 million is $12 million less than the House and comes on top of earlier cuts. "We can't allow these cuts to take place," he said.

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