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Cleveland.com - New Spending Bill Would Restore Great Lakes Cleanup Money

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Location: Washington, DC

By Sabrina Eaton

Negotiators between the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on Monday night released a $1.012 trillion compromise 2014 spending bill that would restore Great Lakes cleanup money to last year's levels and also repeal a newly enacted cut to cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for disabled military retirees and their survivors.

The House and Senate are scheduled to vote later this week on the bill to fund the government through the end of September. To avoid a government shutdown on Wednesday, when the measure now funding the government expires, the House approved a stopgap to pay for operations until they can vote on the larger bill. The Senate is expected to pass a similar interim funding measure.

The top Republican and Democratic members of the committees that devised the compromise released a joint statement that said the agreement meets the guidelines set under an earlier accord between budget committee chairs Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Patty Murray of Washington, "keeps the government open, and eliminates the uncertainty and economic instability of stop-gap governing."

"As with any compromise, not everyone will like everything in this bill, but in this divided government a critical bill such as this simply cannot reflect the wants of only one party," their statement said. "We believe this is a good, workable measure that will serve the American people well, and we encourage all our colleagues to support it this week."

President Barack Obama said the bill would "fund our government at levels that allow us to take some important steps to provide the services and the help that Americans need and American families need in order to get ahead in this economy."

"I would urge that Congress pass that funding measure as quickly as possible so that all these agencies have some certainty around their budgets," Obama told reporters on Tuesday.

Russell Township GOP Rep. Dave Joyce said the bill would restore Great Lakes Restoration Initiative money to the $300 million level that was approved for 2013 before cuts implemented under the sequester reduced it to $285 million. An earlier draft of the bill cut the program to $60 million, and Joyce has worked to ratchet up the money in the bill's subsequent incarnations.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative supports efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, fight invasive species, and reduce runoff from cities and farms.

Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said the budget's increased funding "represents a significant victory for the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and quality of life."

Joyce, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the budget would also boost National Institutes of Health money by $1 billion over 2013 levels - which might benefit medical research operations in the Cleveland area, and would boost National Aeronautics and Space Administration funding by 120 million over last year's enacted level.

Joyce said the $17.6 billion in the bill for NASA includes $4.1 billion for exploration, and funding for the multipurpose crew vehicle and space launch system flight program that NASA Glenn Research Center participates in.

He said the bill increases Army Corps of Engineers funding by 10 percent over 2013 levels, and boosts money for Community Development Block Grants to $3 billion, an $82 million increase over last year.

Joyce said the bill cuts a "payment in lieu of taxes" program in which the federal government financially compensates local jurisdictions in areas where it owns property to offset taxes that property would otherwise have generated.

He expects that would cut revenues to communities that got that money from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Summit County will get about $40,000 less than it did before, Joyce said.

"Our numbers are small compared to out West, where this will run into millions of dollars on huge tracts of land," said Joyce, who anticipates the cut might sway legislators from those areas against the measure.

Joyce said his focus for the bill had been restoring money for Great Lakes programs, and that last week's release of an Army Corps of Engineers report on keeping Asian carp out of the lakes helped underscore the region's serious concerns.

"We have had tremendous bipartisan support," he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said the bill contains $5.2 million to extend a water and sewer line at the Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center. The funds are critical to growth of Camp Ravenna, which the Ohio National Guard plans to expand and develop as a major training site, Brown said.

"By developing its utility infrastructure, Camp Ravenna can grow and bring more jobs to Northeast Ohio," said a statement from Brown.

Other legislators noted the bill would include $8.6 billion for the Head Start, which would restore cuts made under the sequestration program and allow 90,000 more children and their families into the program.

It also includes $3.4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $169 million increase. Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said that will allow states to assist roughly 415,000 additional low-income households this winter.

He said the bill provides $815 million for senior nutrition programs, fully replacing cuts imposed by the sequester, and would maintain level funding for the Department of Education's $22.8 billion Pell Grant student aid program.


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