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November 15, 2018

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The Policy Racket

House panel proposes advancing Yucca Mountain, cutting policing program

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WASHINGTON - It’s Friday night. Time to drop a budget.

The House Appropriations Committee filed its 359-page budget resolution for the rest of the fiscal year late Friday, a strong move that’s likely to inspire an even stronger response from Senate Democrats, whose rhetorical assault on the Republicans’ proposal to slice $100 billion from the Obama administration’s 2011 budget was already well under way before the bill hit the books.

“The House Republicans’ proposal is not responsible,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this week.

The debate was in many ways speculative up to this point, between lawmakers supporting Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's vision for the federal budget, versus those waiting for the Obama administration's official budget request. But now that the bill’s out in the open (the president’s budget isn’t due out until Monday) there are a few things that are sure to catch Nevadans' attention -- both in the programs Republicans propose to continue and in the areas they propose to cut.

Some of the most obvious? Pushing ahead on Yucca Mountain and slicing $600 million nationwide from the COPS community policing program.

The continuing resolution expressly bars the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from terminating the Yucca Mountain licensing review “without due cause” and prevents any government agency from using budgeted funds to pay for “termination costs for federal workers hired with stimulus funds” -- though it’s not immediately clear if by “stimulus” the proposal is referring to dollars spent under the American Recovery Act, or the $10.9 billion in so-named discretionary investment funds that could, in the future, go to pay for such positions.

Reid didn't receive that bit of news so well.

“Let me be clear. Any attempt to restart the Yucca Mountain project will not happen on my watch as Senate majority leader,” Reid said. “If House Republicans are genuinely interested in fiscal responsibility, they should stop trying to waste more taxpayer money on an irretrievably bad project.”

There’s been a great deal of backlash, even before the budget was fully unveiled, about slicing social service funding -- and political gauntlets were thrown in particular over the proposal to slash community policing budgets.

“The House Republican proposal ... would be devastating for the law enforcement community in Nevada and across the country,” Chris Collins, President of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said, calling out Nevada House Republicans Dean Heller and Joe Heck specifically to exercise their “obligation to denounce these unacceptable cuts that jeopardize the safety and security of Nevadans across the state.”

Nevada Democrats joined the fray, too. “I challenge my colleagues to join me in rejecting this shortsighted effort to eliminate funding that will help Metro, Henderson and North Las Vegas police,” Rep. Shelley Berkley said.

Heller and Heck have deferred comment for the most part on budget specifics until the bill was unveiled, and didn’t publicly address the direct COPS challenge. But even if it’s their party’s officially-endorsed bill, there are bits of it that aren’t likely to sit so well with them, either.

Heller, for one, has been as doggedly opposed to the Yucca Mountain project as any Democrat in the delegation. Joe Heck has not -- but he may take issue with the reductions in foreign aid, an area in which he raised concerns at this week’s intelligence briefing.

There are other cuts that are also likely to set off bitter debates around Nevada, such as the moratorium issued on new Energy Department projects, reductions in job training programs, and cuts to high-speed rail. Republicans also made good on threats to de-fund the health care law, which includes cuts to community health centers and maternal and child health care block grants.

House leaders, beginning with Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, are congratulating the drafters for penning a bill with “the largest spending cuts in history.”

“This year, our nation is spending $1.5 trillion more than we have, running our debt to $14 trillion,” Rogers said. “The taxpayers have told us loud and clear that this is simply unacceptable, and have demanded that we get our nation’s fiscal house in order. This CR responds to this call.”

Republicans have complained that Obama’s 2011 budget request doesn’t do enough to really tackle the country’s mounting debt -- which is actually more than $14 trillion, and rising.

But Democrats in the Senate are almost guaranteed to gut the House proposal for focusing too heavily on slicing and not enough on stimulating -- which they say is also necessary to get people back to work and paying into the system again.

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