WASHINGTON — Here's a look at some of President Barack Obama's requests in his $3.73 trillion budget for the 2012 budget year beginning Oct. 1.
Spending: $18.7 million
Percentage Change from 2011: 0.9 percent decrease
Discretionary Spending: $18.7 million
Highlights: Obama's space budget is about the same as the previous year, avoiding the major proposed cuts other agencies are facing, partly because of the long planned retirement of the space shuttle fleet. With Obama continuing a Bush administration decision to stop flying the 30-year-old shuttles, NASA can then shift the couple billion dollars it has been spending yearly to launch shuttles to other projects. However, NASA will have to spend more than half a billion dollars on a pension plan payment for private company workers who helped launch the shuttle.
It's how that other money will be spent that has already put Obama's NASA on a collision course with Congress. Obama wants to spend $850 million to help private companies develop their own space taxis that will eventually replace the shuttle and the Russian Soyuz as the way to get astronauts to the International Space Station. Congress has repeatedly tried to cut commercial crew spaceship aid. On the other side, Congress has ordered NASA to speed up development of a heavy-lift rocket to get astronauts out of Earth's orbit and on the way to an asteroid, the moon and Mars. NASA has put $1.8 billion in its budget proposal for that, but said they cannot build the rocket in time for a 2016 launch as Congress wants.
NASA continues to wrestle with the overbudget James Webb Space Telescope, which eventually will replace the Hubble telescope, cutting $64 million from the budget as it tries to get costs under control. The agency is still trying to figure when it will be launched and what its total cost will be.
Spending: $129 billion
Percentage Change from 2011: 4.5 percent increase
Discretionary Spending: $58.8 billion
Highlights: More than 2.2 million service members have deployed for war since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The budget proposal would provide $208 million in aid to caregivers who are family members of the severely wounded from the recent wars. It's part of a law signed last year by President Barack Obama. It would invest $183 million to help jumpstart VA's effort to reduce its massive claims backlog that's left veterans waiting months or years for a benefit check by starting to implement a paperless claims system. It would invest $939 million to help expand services for homeless veterans through private and public partnerships. It also would provide $6 billion for programs targeting the mental health needs of veterans, including those with traumatic brain injury. The proposed budget would cut spending for construction. House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, a Republican, has promised to do a thorough review of spending at the VA.
Spending: $128.6 billion
Percentage Change from 2011: 68 percent increase
Discretionary Spending: $13.4 billion
Highlights: Obama is calling for spending $556 billion over six years for highway, transit and passenger rail construction, as well as safety programs. That includes $53 billion for high-speed trains in addition to the $10.5 billion already committed for train projects. High-speed rail is one of Obama's signature programs, but the budget proposal puts him on a collision course with House Republicans. They voted last week to cut $1 billion for fast trains from the current budget.
The last long-term government transportation construction program expired on Oct. 1, 2008. The administration and Congress have kept the program limping along through a series of short-term extensions that included dipping into the general treasury for funds. What's not in the president's budget is an increase in federal gasoline and diesel taxes to pay for construction. Obama's deficit commission recommended as much as a 15 cent increase phased in over several years. Both the White House and congressional leaders see a gas tax increase as a political nonstarter.
To help pay for highway and transit construction, the administration proposes using $30 billion of the $556 billion as seed money to start up a national infrastructure bank that would make loans to major transportation projects.
Industry and labor have been pushing for increased spending on road, rail and transit projects to help generate jobs and reduce costly traffic congestion. Two blue-ribbon commissions have predicted nightmarish congestion without a major national effort to repair and improve the nation's transportation system.
The budget proposal also would reduce funds for airport construction by $1.1 billion — nearly a third — by eliminating grants to large and medium hub airports. In exchange, it would give larger airports the power to increase the fees charged to airline passengers. Passengers pay a fee for each airport they pass through, including when they change planes. Currently, airports are allowed to charge up to $4.50, although not all of them do. The airline industry is opposed increasing airport fees, which are added to the ticket price passengers pay.
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