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Source: Newsday

U.S. budget compromise boosts LI projects

BY TOM BRUNE

Posted: January 15, 2014
Originally Published: January 14, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The $1.1 trillion federal spending bill that Congress is set to vote on this week boosts money for the Long Island Sound restoration program, funds Brookhaven National Laboratory's heavy ion collider and continues grants for homeland security programs in New York.

The compromise measure hammered out by a bipartisan team in the past few weeks also increases heating assistance for those who need help and maintains subsidies for Amtrak in the Northeast corridor.

The 1,582-page bill, which will fund the federal government through October, ends the threat of another government shutdown during this election year.

The measure raises military and domestic spending by $45 billion to ease automatic cuts required by the "sequester" budget agreement and adds $85 billion in war funding. It is only for discretionary spending, not automatically funded programs such as Medicare.

The bill is scheduled to come up for a vote Wednesday in the House, where Republicans have signaled a tentative support. The House also plans to pass a three-day stopgap funding measure to give the Senate time to vote by the weekend.

New York's Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and the four members of the Long Island delegation to the House say they support the bill despite the compromises it includes.

"I'm going to vote for it, but I'm not enthused about it," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

"In a divided government it's the best we could have gotten. For the most part, it maintains the status quo," he said.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), said, "While this funding deal is far from perfect, I will vote for it because it prevents another government shutdown and invests in priorities that are important for to New York and my constituents."

The bill contains priorities from both sides, including a $1 billion hike for the Head Start early education program that Democrats favored and a freeze on current funding levels for implementing the Affordable Care Act that Republicans wanted.

The bill continues Saturday delivery by the Postal Service and bars the closing or consolidation of small rural post offices. It also contains a provision that exempts disabled veterans and war widows from a pension cut enacted last month.

Environmentalists on Long Island cheered the bill for providing $3.9 million for the program to clean up and protect Long Island Sound -- a $1 million boost over President Barack Obama's request and $200,000 more than last year.

"We've been lobbying on this for the last six months, and this is great," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale.

Brookhaven National Laboratory also hailed the measure for allotting $165.2 million for its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, after the Republican budget had put it on the chopping block earlier this year.

King lauded the bill's increase of $42 million to $600 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program, used by the NYPD and surrounding law enforcement agencies.

Funding also rose by $120 million to $466 million for homeland security grants to various states., which will be used in New York and other states.

One spending item drew the ire of Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). He said $404 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas was a "waste of money," and that he'll continue to fight the scheduled opening of that facility to replace Long Island's Plum Island Animal Disease Center.