House Republicans seek cuts to foreign aid, support for U.S.-Mexico wall

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks about immigration reform during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTS195CW

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled legislation slashing $10 billion from foreign aid, a sharp reduction but not as deep a cut as President Donald Trump wants. File photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled legislation slashing $10 billion from foreign aid, a sharp reduction but not as deep a cut as President Donald Trump wants.

In a flurry of summertime activity, congressional panels in the House and Senate released various spending bills to fund government agencies and departments in 2018. The GOP-led panels concurred with some of Trump’s request, such as his down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall, while rejecting others such as a significant reduction in medical research.

At issue are the 12 annual spending bills to funding annual agency operations. Republicans controlling Congress have announced plans to rejected Trump’s proposal to cut non-defense programs by more than $50 billion and they’re adding about $30 billion to his request for defense.

Democrats strongly oppose the wall and funding for Trump proposals such as 1,000 additional immigration agents and say additional funding is needed for domestic programs and foreign aid.

“It is targeting people who have lived, work, and pay taxes in this country for years or even decades with no criminal infractions,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif. “The trauma that is being inflicted on entire communities throughout our country cannot be overstated.”

READ MORE: Who are the winners and losers in the $1.1 trillion spending bill?

Trump wanted to cut almost $17 billion from foreign aid. House Republicans proposed a reduction of $10 billion.

The House foreign aid cuts spared Israel and Egypt and exempted the budget for protecting U.S. embassies overseas. But it slashed U.S. payments to the United Nations by $600 million and cut funding for multilateral organizations focused on topics such as climate change and debt relief by more than 60 percent. Direct U.S. economic aid to poor and unstable nations absorbed a $4.2 billion cut to $22.7 billion.

House Republicans made good on promises to reject Trump’s proposal to slash medical research at the National Institutes of Health by more than $7 billion.

Meanwhile, the House Homeland Security funding subcommittee also approved a $1.6 billion down payment to construct Trump’s long promised wall along the U.S-Mexico border, including funding for three segments of wall and fence in Texas and the city of San Diego.

House measures funding the departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Interior also advanced, while the counterpart Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled a $6 billion increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs and construction projects at military facilities.

Conflicts were largely avoided this past spring during action on last year’s leftover appropriations business as Congress came together on a $1.1 trillion-plus catchall funding bill for the current fiscal year.

READ MORE: What Trump’s budget proposal means for science, health and tech

But the appropriations process is ripe for a showdown this fall and a partial shutdown of the government is a real possibility. Ultimately, it is almost certain to require an agreement with Democrats to wrap up the appropriations process, but talks on a bipartisan solution have yet to start in earnest.

For now, the work is grinding on in the House and Senate Appropriations committees. Plans for floor votes have not been set by House leaders, who invariably have difficulty passing most of the nondefense spending bills without Democratic help.

Senate action is even further behind schedule and the principal item of business in September will be to pass a stopgap spending measure to prevent a government shutdown.

Republicans have also cut education, labor, and health programs by $5 billion in releasing a $156 billion measure on Wednesday. In that measure, lawmakers rejected cuts to public broadcasting sought by Trump, though a handful of programs were “zeroed out” in line with Trump’s budget release. Health research at the NIH would receive a $1.1 billion increase however, and special education funding would receive an almost 2 percent increase.

The appropriations process is ripe for a showdown this fall and a partial shutdown of the government is a real possibility.

Also Wednesday, the panel in charge of funding the Environmental Protection Agency approved a $528 million cut to the agency’s $8 billion budget for the current year. The cuts, while slammed by Democrats, were far less severe than sought by Trump, who wanted to cut $1.9 billion more.

Support for Trump’s border wall is far from universal even among Republicans from conservative districts. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., emphasized he supports border security but a wall along the whole border is not practical or realistic.

“The rhetoric coming from those pro-wall people, I get the rhetoric game, but what those folks are talking about doing — listen you don’t even own all the land,” Amodei said.

“It’s like ‘Build that Wall’ — OK I get that. But building that wall the reality,” Amodei said, is much more complicated.

Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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