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Federal budget cuts could hit hard in Washington state

WASHINGTON — The traffic jams may be bigger in Washington state. Pell Grants to help college students may be smaller. And there could be less federal money for everything from the environment to school lunches to low-income heating aid.

Those could be just some of the results of spending cuts proposed by either President Barack Obama or House Republicans, according to members of the Washington state congressional delegation and their staffs.

The two budget plans will dominate debate on Capitol Hill this week. While the president announced his plan on Monday, the Republican plan will hit the House floor today. As a result, the state's congressional offices spent the day scrambling to analyze both plans.

Most Democrats gave at least muted praise to the president's $3.7 trillion spending plan for 2012, which includes the first year of a five-year freeze on domestic spending, while lambasting the Republican proposal, which calls for $100 billion in budget cuts this year.

Republicans, on the other hand, criticized the president for not doing enough to rein in spending. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers called Obama's plan "irresponsible and unsustainable."

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said the Republican plan includes major cuts for environmental programs that benefit Washington state. Among them: an 87 percent cut in land and water conservation funds, a 60 percent cut for Puget Sound cleanup efforts and a 37.5 percent reduction in the Pacific coastal salmon recovery fund.

At the same time, Cantwell criticized Obama's budget for cutting the Army Corps of Engineers budget by $913 million. She said the president's plan "puts at risk important flood mitigation, infrastructure and water projects across our state — from Walla Walla to Centralia to the Skagit River, and beyond."

"Washingtonians know all too well the dangers extreme weather and crumbling infrastructure have on our economy and families," Cantwell said.

Rep. Norm Dicks, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, was most irked by a Republican plan to wipe out a $75 million program that offers housing vouchers to homeless veterans. He called the plan one of many "unconscionable proposals."

Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the president's budget spends too much.

"The United States cannot afford to continue President Obama's trillion-dollar budget deficits that ignore any sense of fiscal sanity," Hastings said. "We have a real debt crisis that requires making tough decisions and setting priorities."

With defense spending taking a hit in the president's budget, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith appeared ready to go along, saying that "simply spending more money on defense does not make us safer."

"Reducing spending where appropriate and providing for our national defense are not mutually exclusive goals and I will seek to strike that balance," said Smith, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Democrat Sen. Patty Murray said she was concerned that the president was looking for cuts only in non-defense discretionary spending, which she described as "one small area of the budget." She said she would fight for funding for Washington state priorities such as education, health care, job training and veterans programs.

"We need to remember that our goal is not only to ensure that we aren't leaving our children and grandchildren in debt, but also that we aren't leaving them infrastructure, schools, and an economic system that won't allow them to compete," Murray said.

With Washington state more dependent on federal aid than many states, some officials feared that any budget cuts could hit the state in a disproportionate way.

Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen said the Republican plan would hurt economic growth and job creation in the northwest part of the state. And he said proposed cuts in infrastructure spending would damage prospects to build a high-speed rail line from Everett to Bellingham.

"This budget proposal makes reckless cuts into the investments necessary for economic growth," Larsen said.

While the president is proposing to cut nearly 200 federal programs, he wants to increase spending on transportation. But House Republicans are proposing a sharp cut in infrastructure spending, which is raising concerns that traffic bottlenecks may worsen on interstate highways.

The president's budget plans will be reviewed by many different congressional committees in the coming weeks. Murray will get the first shot at it today when the Senate Budget Committee meets.

Hastings said the president's spending plan for the Interior Department will be reviewed in great detail by his panel next month.

"We will closely examine why the president is proposing to spend money purchasing federal lands when the National Park Service currently has a maintenance backlog measuring in the billions of dollars," he said.