Peterson worries about potential $50B budget cut

WASHINGTON - Rural America would be hurt by a $50 billion budget cut the U.S. House approved in the wee hours of Friday, in the opinion of western Minnesota's congressman.

WASHINGTON - Rural America would be hurt by a $50 billion budget cut the U.S. House approved in the wee hours of Friday, in the opinion of western Minnesota's congressman.

Agriculture, rural development, education, energy assistance and children's nutrition programs are among those cut, Rep. Collin Peterson of Detroit Lakes said.

Peterson joined all other Democrats in voting against the measure, but Republicans got just enough votes to pass it after failing last week.

Intra-party tensions are sure to flare again when negotiations begin next month on a House-Senate compromise measure. Differences over opening an Arctic wilderness to oil drilling promise to be difficult to resolve.

Still, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., were buoyant -- if exhausted -- after sweating out a big victory on the budget cut bill. The bill, passed 217-215 after a 25-minute-long roll call, makes modest but politically painful cuts across an array of programs.


Peterson said a major problem with the bill and a companion tax cut measure is that it doesn't reduce the federal deficit.

"These wrongheaded spending reductions do nothing to offset the budgetary impact of the tax breaks they're going to give to people who are already very wealthy," Peterson said. "The fact is, this will increase the deficit and increase the tax burden for our children and grandchildren."

This current budget bill is estimated to increase the deficit by about $100 billion over the next 10 years, Peterson said.

The congressman said Minnesota school funding will drop $14.2 million next year if the House budget plan survives. Another $6.9 million cut from Head Start would force 300 children off the program, he added.

Funding for programs aiding the poor and elderly also will suffer, he said, along with students using the federal college loan program.

Rural communities would lose $4.9 million that had been expected to help clean up the state's water. Federal agriculture programs are threatened, Peterson said, because the bill would allow further cuts.

"With energy prices as high as they are, rural Americans will be hit even harder than other groups because they have to travel farther to get to a doctor, to work, to the grocery store, to operate their farm equipment - and the list goes on and on," Peterson said.

Republican leaders, however, praised the measure.


The victory on the deficit-control bill came hours after an embarrassing and rare defeat on a $602 billion spending bill for education, health care and job training programs this year. The earlier 224-209 vote halted what had been a steady drive to complete annual appropriations bills freezing many agency budgets.

The broader budget bill would slice almost $50 billion from the deficit by the end of the decade by curbing rapidly growing benefit programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies. Republicans said reining in such programs whose costs spiral upward each year automatically is the first step to restoring fiscal discipline.

In passing the bill, Republicans buffed up their party's budget-cutting credentials as they try to reduce a deficit swelled by spending on the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. The budget plan squeaked through after an all-day search by Hastert, Blunt and others to round up votes from reluctant moderates and other lawmakers uneasy with the bill.

House leaders now face arduous talks with the Senate, which passed a much more modest plan earlier this month. Negotiators face difficult negotiations over Arctic drilling, Medicaid and student loans, among other issues.

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