Taxpayer spending on the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and several smaller agencies would be cumulatively slashed by 14 percent next year under a spending bill approved Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.
The $17.25 billion measure is $5 billion below President Obama's 2012 request and $2.7 billion less than this year's total. Agriculture Department funding, for example, would be chopped 15 percent from this year's levels while the FDA would take an 11.6 percent hit, according to committee figures.
Amid spiraling budget deficits, "hard choices can simply no longer be put off on to our children in the name of political expediency," the panel's chairman, Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said before the evening vote. But Democrats said the cuts would imperil food safety enforcement as well as nutrition programs for women and infants.
"This bill goes beyond lean," said Rep. Sam Farr of California, the top Democrat on the agriculture appropriations subcommittee. "It's downright emaciated."
The legislation, which still needs House and Senate approval, follows a newly adopted game plan by the Republican-run committee to cut overall discretionary spending by 3 percent, or $30.4 billion, from this year's $1.05 trillion total. That plan's chances of becoming law are uncertain, given that months of wrangling with the Obama administration and Senate Democrats likely lie ahead.
"I would see this more as the opening bid," said Cliff Isenberg, chief budget counsel for the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group dedicated to reducing federal red ink. The Senate has not yet even adopted its own budget blueprint for next year, Isenberg noted.
Even so, the push for leaner government has some bipartisan support; also on Tuesday, the full House voted 318-97 against raising the debt ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.
"Everybody is feeling the pressure with this idea that deficit reduction is going to be part of the package, whether we like it or not," said Christopher Hellman, senior policy analyst at the National Priorities Project, which also follows federal budget issues.