The House has passed H.R. 5326, the FY2013 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. This is the first FY2013 spending bill passed in either chamber. The bill funds the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation, and other related agencies. The bill set funding levels at $1.6 billion below FY2012 -- or a 3.1 percent decrease -- and at $731 million below the president's request.
"I'm glad to see that House Republicans are continuing to cut federal spending more and more each year," stated Westmoreland. "We still have a long way to go, though. Congressional Democrats and President Obama ramped up spending so high in 2008 and 2009 that it's going to take some time to ramp it back down to sustainable levels. However, each year we cut spending from the year before puts us one year closer to getting this country back on the path of fiscal responsibility."
One of the agencies that will see a reduction in its funding is the controversial Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The bill set funding for the LSC at $328 million, $20 million below last year and $74 million below the president's request. The LSC was established to provide free, legal assistance to the poor in civil, non-criminal matters. Instead of focusing on this core mission, the LSC has spent much of their time attempting to extort employers. Congressman Westmoreland introduced an amendment to the bill to cut funding of the Legal Services Corporation even further by an additional $128 million, and to move that $128 million into the Spending Reduction Account to be used for deficit reduction.
"In some cases, the Legal Services Corporation does nothing more than abuse our legal system in an effort to take advantage of employers, especially American farmers and ranchers," stated Westmoreland. "Their frivolous lawsuits and harassment of farmers only drive up the cost of business on an agriculture industry that is already suffering, increasing the price of food for consumers. The American taxpayers do not want their money wasted on organizations who operate like this and that is why I introduced this amendment. Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats and some of my Republicans colleagues apparently feel the LSC should continue with their harassment of American farmers and ranchers and voted against my amendment."
Opponents to the congressman's amendment claimed it would have severely cut available funds to provide civil legal defense for the indigent. However, the LSC is one of smallest aspects that provides funding for indigent civil legal defense. In 2008 (the last year a comprehensive study of indigent defense services was completed) indigent defense services received almost $5.7 billion in federal and non-federal funding -- $4.5 billion of which came from state, county, and local expenditures. In addition, indigent defense services received $849 million in federal funding through other agencies, apart from LSC funding. Finally, the LSC also receives private funding from state and local legal services programs, Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts programs, private grants from entities such as the United Way and state and local bar associations, as well as private attorney's pro bono work.