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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House GOP pushes deep cuts to federal law enforcement



Rep Mark Alford (R-Mo.) speaks alongside several other Republican members of Congress during a news conference on holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over audio of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur at the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Republicans put forward a spending bill that would slash funding for federal law enforcement, though they failed to find a way to defund the special counsel prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump. (Eric Lee/The New York Times)

By Catie Edmondson


House Republicans earlier this week advanced legislation that would slash funding for the Department of Justice and U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country, the latest attempt by the GOP to punish federal law enforcement agencies that they claim have been weaponized against conservatives, especially former President Donald Trump.


The spending bill, approved along party lines by a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, would cut funding for salaries and other expenses at the Justice Department by 20%, and for U.S. attorneys’ offices by 11%.


It comes as the Department of Justice is prosecuting two federal cases against the former president and presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, one related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the other concerning his retention of classified materials.


It is also an early example of how House Republicans are again trying to inject the annual government spending bills with partisan policy mandates aimed at amplifying political grievances and culture war issues. A similar process played out last year, but the most conservative measures were ultimately jettisoned in bipartisan negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House.


The policies being advanced this year are similarly dead on arrival. But in the interim, with a September funding deadline and the November elections approaching, House GOP leaders are again loading the spending bills with hard-right measures in an effort to delight their ultraconservative core supporters and placate the most conservative members of their conference.


In the next few days, with lawmakers scheduled to consider spending bills to fund the Pentagon, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security, Republicans plan to force votes on proposals including reducing to $1 the salaries of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; cutting off pay entirely for Secretary of State Antony Blinken; cutting funding for Mayorkas’ office by $10 million; and prohibiting U.S. funding for Ukraine, including the use of taxpayer money to greenlight arms sales to Kyiv.


Already baked into the bills are a series of conservative social policy dictates, including measures that would bar the Pentagon from using any funds to promote critical race theory or to allow drag queen story hours on military bases, and would prohibit agencies from enforcing a slew of executive orders related to climate change issued by President Joe Biden. The bills also prohibit agencies from allowing federal employees to take paid leave to obtain an abortion.


Some Republican lawmakers are seeking to go even further. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., this week announced that he would try to add a provision to the military spending bill to strip money for in vitro fertilization treatment, which he said was “responsible for the destruction of life.”


The spending bill that funds the Department of Justice and the FBI has become a particular flashpoint in the House, with conservatives bent on defunding an agency they believe is arrayed against them and their supporters. Hard-right lawmakers announced Wednesday that they would move this week to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena for audio recordings of Biden’s interview by a special counsel regarding his own handling of classified materials.


Ever since Jack Smith, the Justice Department’s special counsel, charged Trump in connection with his retention of classified documents at his residence in Florida, House Republicans have pledged retribution.


They have quickly learned that is easier said than done.


Special counsels are funded outside the normal congressional appropriations process, thanks to a 1988 law that established a permanent fund at the Treasury Department to pay for the office’s expenses.


“It’s a separate, distinct account and it’s effectively on auto-fund and autopilot,” Speaker Mike Johnson said at a news conference last month. “So, it has to be dealt with separately.”


“We can’t have special counsels engaged in political vendettas, either,” he continued. “And that’s what a lot of people see right now. We haven’t yet come to a consensus on what that remedy looks like. But we’re actively discussing it.”


For now, top Republicans have settled for using the Justice Department bill to make broad cuts to law enforcement agencies, but some hard-right lawmakers are still seeking to add provisions targeting Smith. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who sits on the Appropriations Committee, told Fox News that he planned to introduce an amendment barring the use of any funding in the bill for the prosecution of a presidential candidate before the 2024 election — though it is not clear what effect that would have on the cases against Trump given that Smith’s independently funded office is handling them.


“The politically motivated and weaponized Department of Justice is restrained and will no longer follow the political whims of the Biden administration,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chair of the panel’s subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation will be refocused on its core competencies, and numerous ill-advised rule-makings by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that challenge constitutional rights will be stopped in their tracks.”


Democrats unanimously opposed the legislation, charging Republicans with advancing measures that would undermine law enforcement efforts even as they decry crime.


“It would greatly reduce the number of FBI special agents and analysts, and these are outstanding public servants who keep us safe by preventing and investigating everything from human and narcotics trafficking to public corruption to kidnappings, mass attacks, cybercrimes and much more,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.

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