As new budget is considered, fight is on for federal funding

Published: March 5, 2006  |  Source: contracostatimes.com
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WASHINGTON – The Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center in Short Hills, N.J., is mobilizing a big political effort to fight President Bush’s proposal to eliminate its $6 million in federal funding.

Its leaders are urging its Web-based Christopher Reeve Action Network to oppose the cut. Reps. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-chairmen of the Congressional Disabilities Caucus, have been invited to a lunch next week to highlight the importance of keeping the money intact.

The big screen portrayer of Superman struggled heroically against a spinal cord injury he suffered in a fall from a horse before dying on Oct. 10, 2004. As he struggled, he supported increased medical research for paralyzed people, including stem cell research, and evoked much public sympathy in the process.

But now the resource center, part of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, has encountered the budget ax as the White House, seeking to rationalize federal spending at a time of high deficits, is taking an even harder look at ways to save taxpayers’ money.

It isn’t easy to cut federal programs — much less one supported by Superman. As Congress prepares to consider a new budget, this and other proposed cuts will trigger furious activity by constituents to save programs slated to be wiped out or reduced, no matter how big or small they may be.

Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget proposes eliminating or reducing 141 programs that cut a wide swath across the federal bureaucracy, saving about $15 billion. Every department would be hit, and the fine print shows that some popular programs would be affected — along with many with a low profile.

Local fire departments would see funds for equipment trimmed and money for hiring firefighters denied. Grants for American history teachers would be slashed. Subsidies to attract people to become physicians would be shaved, as would Amtrak funding. So-called Byrne law-enforcement grants to communities would be eliminated, and the money diverted elsewhere.

Furious public debate on these items began as soon as the president’s budget was released in February, and it isn’t about to end soon. Democrats said the austerity was forced by the president’s large tax cuts. Tom Kahn, staff director for the House Budget Committee, said many Republicans are not enthusiastic about the president’s budget, and that many of the decreases will not go through.

“We asked for $4 billion in savings in 2005 and got only $300 million, but we dusted ourselves off and asked for the savings again, and more, and got $6.5 billion the next year,” said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget. “Persistence pays off if you’re doing the right thing.”

But even if all of the administration’s cuts were approved, they still would be just a sliver of the $434 billion proposed for nondefense discretionary spending in 2007. The overall proposed budget is $2.77 trillion.

As for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, Milburn said the budget seeks much larger funding for spinal cord research in other agencies — $87 million at the National Institutes of Health, $28.6 million at the Veterans Administration and $9.5 million at the Education Department.

Noting the private sector has a role to play in such research, he said the Reeve Foundation received about 75 percent of its funding from the private sector in 2004 and is “robustly” supported by private funding.

Michael Manganiello, senior vice president for government relations for the foundation, said the center had been a partner with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2001 in offering services to paralyzed Americans and their families.

Veterans of the Iraq war have used its services, Manganiello said, adding that it has actually helped save the government money. About 4 million Americans have been helped, he said.

“Together with the CDC, we have grown this center to something amazing,” he said.

The president’s education budget is likely to spark one of the biggest debates in Congress. Bush would cut the Education Department’s budget by $3.7 billion (6.4 percent) to $54.4 billion, with Title I funding, which goes to poor school districts, frozen at $12.7 billion.

The National Education Association said that while Bush’s No Child Left Behind program would be boosted, most of the new funds would go for expanding math and science programs and for a voucher plan already rejected by Congress. Milburn said No Child Left Behind would receive a $1 billion increase in 2007, and Title I grants are up 45 percent since Bush took office.

Dennis Van Roekel, NEA’s vice president, said the president’s budget would drain funds that local districts use for many programs, such as grants for the teaching of American history, which he said help history teachers with professional development.

But money for this grant program would be slashed from $120 million to $50 million. The administration said in budget documents that “the number of quality applications for assistance under this program has been insufficient to justify continuing the current level of funding.”

By William Neikirk
CHICAGO TRIBUNE