BUDGET:

Senate Dems take victory lap despite EPA, DOE cuts

Correction appended.

The spending pact struck Friday night gashes U.S. EPA by 16 percent and the Energy Department by 30 percent relative to last year's levels, but upper-chamber Democrats today sounded ready to accentuate the positive in the hard-fought deal and move on to 2012.

"[W]e've fought very hard to protect what we thought were important issues for the American middle class," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. "These priorities were reflected in the compromise that we reached on the CR, continuing resolution. We fought for cuts that they had to be smart cuts, cuts that would strengthen our economy instead of weaken it."

Those cuts include several that eat away at the party's top energy and environmental priorities, including a $1.14 billion decrease at DOE below 2010 levels and a $1.6 billion dip at EPA. Loan guarantees and energy research programs considered high-value to the president's party were spared the budgetary ax initially sought in the House GOP CR, but many other regulatory and policymaking arms at DOE and EPA still took hits (Greenwire, April 12).

In the immediate aftermath of the spending agreement, Democrats pointed to their successful stand against Republican policy riders that would have halted EPA's greenhouse gas rules and water pollution limits for coal mining, among other regulatory efforts. The 16 percent overall budget cut at the agency has taken a backseat in the Democratic message -- when a reporter asked Reid today about the EPA trims, the Nevadan replied: "I think you are wrong on those numbers."

That Democrats are prepared to support the spending deal does not mean they endorse the EPA and DOE cuts, as Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) explained in an interview today.

"The big picture is that we stood for something in these negotiations and we stopped some really horrible cuts, we stopped some really horrible riders," said Boxer, who described Reid and President Obama's work in the spending talks as "magnificent ... in a circumstance where the other side was taking an ax to this budget."

Of the energy and environment cuts that did survive in the final deal, which is expected to clear both chambers this week, Boxer added: "They are counterproductive, but they are much better than what our colleagues on the other side wanted."

A similar reaction came today from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), one of three Democrats who fought for the preservation of $150 million in federal funding for Washington, D.C.-area transit in the agreement. While cautioning that he has yet to delve into all the deal's details, Cardin deemed it "a true compromise."

"I'd look at some of the things that the president achieved, like keeping the environmental policy riders off of the budget," Cardin said. "That was, to me, a major victory for what I believe in."

That blend of elation at the demise of the most high-profile policy curbs -- though several other riders remained in the final bill -- and wincing at the overall level of cuts also emerged in environmentalists' reactions today.

"While we are relieved that this short-term funding agreement avoids the worst attacks on our clean air and water protections, we are disappointed in the funding cuts for public land protection, and key EPA programs," Anna Aurilio, Washington director at the nonprofit group Environment America, said in a statement.

On the House side of the Capitol, where members were still arriving today, questions swirled around how many Democrats would cross over to support the deal even as several notable conservatives signaled that the bipartisan cuts did not go far enough for them.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) today deflected questions on how many minority-party votes he would need to pass the $38.5 billion in 2011 cuts. "We're going to pass this bill with Republicans," he told reporters today, adding that he is "not close enough to the vote count to know" how many Democrats would be needed to pass the plan.

Reporters Sarah Abruzzese and John McArdle contributed.

Correction:The fiscal 2011 continuing resolution set for congressional consideration this week includes Energy Department cuts of between $1.14 billion and $1.47 billion from the previous year's levels. The $10.7 billion figure cited in an earlier version of this story was based on an incorrect figure released by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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