Panel OKs $51B for Justice, NASA over Democratic protests

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A GOP-controlled House panel Wednesday approved a $51 billion measure providing the Justice Department and NASA with modest budget hikes, but the legislation falls well short of what's needed to win President Barack Obama's signature.

The measure cuts back Obama's request for police body cameras and new community policing initiatives, drawing the ire of Democrats and the White House.

The bill establishes a $50 million fund to improve police-community relations through state grants to assess and improve their justice systems. The amount is about one-third of what Obama asked for in February. Some $15 million would go to help local police departments buy body cameras that would record interactions with the public, half of Obama's request.

Funding for community policing has assumed a higher profile following violence sparked by the recent deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement in Baltimore, South Carolina and Ferguson, Missouri. The unrest has focused attention on police conduct and the distrust between minority communities and the officers in those areas.

"The ... bill fails to adequately fund all the elements necessary to fully support law enforcement and improve relations between communities and the police," said a White House letter sent to lawmakers on Tuesday.

The measure targets increases for exploring space and fighting cybercrime but cuts legal aid for the poor, the decennial census and weather satellites. It eliminates a grant program that helps local police departments hire new officers.

The bill is one of 12 annual spending measures advancing through Congress, but is sure to face a veto threat, as have its predecessors. Republicans are effectively breaking budget limits to funnel an almost $40 billion increase to the Pentagon, but Obama is vowing vetoes of virtually every bill until domestic programs get comparable treatment.

Wednesday's voice vote sends the measure to the House floor for a vote next month.

Lawmakers in both parties are looking ahead to bipartisan talks later this year to increase spending for both domestic programs and the military, paid with cuts in future budgets. But no concrete steps toward such talks have been taken, and the Appropriations committees are moving ahead with bills that even Republicans acknowledged are basically opening volleys.

The White House weighed in Wednesday with a letter attacking the measure for failing to fund next-generation weather satellites for midrange forecasts, shortfalls in census funding that could cost taxpayers more in the long run and the cuts to Obama's request for community policing.

"As the nation has observed in Baltimore and other communities, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential," said Tuesday's letter from White House budget chief Shaun Donovan.

The measure advanced as the Appropriation Committee's defense panel awarded initial approval to a $578.6 billion blueprint on Tuesday that funds a 2.3 percent pay raise for the military, supports the fight against terrorism and prevents the retirement of the A-10 aircraft that protects ground troops.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will get underway on Wednesday with legislation awarding an 8 percent increase to veterans programs and military construction projects and a bill for the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineer water projects.

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