U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler admits she has reservations about the billions of dollars in discretionary nondefense programs the House wants to cut from the current year’s federal budget.
But she says Republicans’ overall goal — cutting federal spending — trumps her misgivings.
The $10 billion in cuts approved by the U.S. House as of Tuesday “will be the largest spending reduction since World War II,” Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, a first-term congresswoman, said in an interview with The Columbian.
The House voted 271-158 on Tuesday to pass another continuing resolution that would, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, keep the federal government in business until April 9. The current two-week stop-gap funding measure expires Friday.
In February, the House also passed a longer-term measure that would cut $61 billion from current spending and keep the federal government operating through Sept. 30. But that bill stands no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The House measure would cut college financial aid, eliminate funding for public broadcasting and slash programs including Head Start preschool, infant nutrition, food safety inspections, emergency food and shelter and Environmental Protection Agency programs to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been highlighting selected cuts in the House bill. On Tuesday, the DCCC sent out a press release accusing Herrera Beutler and her fellow Republicans of voting to cut $126 million from the budget of the National Weather Service, the agency that oversees the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which issued widespread warnings after Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Casey Bowman, Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, denied it.
“Jaime voted to cut the budget of (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) by 7 percent, which is the parent organization of the National Weather Service. There is nothing anywhere that states tsunami warnings systems should be cut,” he said.
“If I had sole discretion, who knows, I might do it differently,” Herrera Beutler said of the House-approved spending cuts. “It doesn’t mean everything (cut) in the first continuing resolution was a bad program. It doesn’t mean some of them didn’t have merit.”
For example, she said, before voting to defund Planned Parenthood, which offers a wide array of women’s health services and also provides abortions, she checked to make sure women in Clark County would still have access to services.
“Access to health care is a priority for me,” she said. “I wanted to make sure health screenings, mammograms, those services are available at clinics that don’t provide abortions. That was important to me.”
Last week, Herrera Beutler was one of only two Republicans to vote against a cut to a Housing and Urban Development program that provides short-term loans to unemployed homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes.
“With double-digit unemployment throughout the district, Jaime didn’t think it seemed right to cut this program,” Bowman said.
In attempting to curb federal spending, Congress should not shy away from cutting the defense budget and other sacred cows, Herrera Beutler said.
“I voted to cut $500 million from one defense program,” she said. “It didn’t affect our troops. It was a slush fund. If we’re not willing to cut fat out of the Pentagon, people aren’t going to take us seriously when we cut other programs. I also voted against farm subsidies.”
She said her own bill, introduced last week, which would cut the salaries of members of Congress and the president and vice president by 10 percent, has failed to get traction.
“I just got my first co-sponsor on the bill,” she said. “It’s a little disappointing that some conservatives are saying cut cut cut, but they turn up their noses at cutting their own salaries.”
It turns out that congressional salaries are considered mandatory rather than discretionary budget items, which makes them harder to cut. “Congress shielded itself” from cuts to its own paychecks, she said.
On the topic of the Columbia River Crossing, Herrera Beutler, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said she’s concerned that some “prominent politicians” in the Northwest are now calling for construction of the $3.6 billion bridge project to begin within two years.
That’s optimistic, she said, particularly given that C-Tran might delay a vote on a sales tax increase to fund operation and maintenance of a light rail line over the new bridge until November 2012.
More important in her mind than arbitrary deadlines, she said, is that all costs of the project, including the costs of financing it, must be transparent, and that “the public in Clark County knows what they are being put on the hook for.”
She supports a countywide advisory vote on the bridge project.
“I’m in favor of making sure people get a chance to vote on the bridge and elements of the bridge,” she said. “That gives me a place to advocate from.”