WASHINGTON — California would feel the pinch, and in some cases the bite, from a far-reaching federal spending package moving toward House approval Thursday.
The budget-tightening bill would divert more than $1 billion away from high-speed rail. It would take $1.2 billion away from community health centers, such as the 895 centers now serving California. It would cut Head Start for children, Pell Grants for college students and research funding for professors.
"It's a whole lot of craziness, actually," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.
The 359-page bill is a down payment on congressional GOP promises to attack the $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit. The legislation is still mammoth, providing over $1 trillion to fund the federal government for the remaining seven months of Fiscal 2012.
All told, House Republican leaders initially voiced hopes for at least $100 billion in savings, compared to current spending levels. They consider the savings essential for bringing the record-setting deficit under control.
"We have stepped forward and recognized that if we don't get our fiscal house in order and bring about dramatic spending cuts, our future is very much in question," Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, the chair of the influential House Rules Committee.
The bill is also a work in progress, which has changed during extended House debate and will change much more by the time it reaches the White House.
"A lot of it is not going to come to fruition," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
California has a huge stake in the so-called "continuing resolution," no matter how the bill turns out. The state receives roughly 12 percent of overall federal funding for many programs, as a general rule.
The Republican funding bill, for instance, includes a 25 reduction in Head Start funding. For California, this amounts to a cut of roughly $123 million, affecting to some degree the 100,000 children currently enrolled.
At the other end of the school spectrum, the House bill reduces the maximum Pell Grant for college students by $845, to a new maximum of $4,015. This would squeeze students from families of modest means. Between them, for instance, Fresno State, Stanislaus State and Sacramento State universities enroll about 23,000 students using Pell Grants.
Similarly, at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, some 3,300 students currently use Pell Grants, according to Education Department records.
In still other cases, California's commanding share of federal funding may lead to commensurately greater losses.
National Science Foundation funding, for instance, is cut $300 million in the initial House budget. This could affect myriad California-based research projects. At the University of California at Davis, faculty members currently have some 425 active NSF research grants, covering topics from the preservation of Egyptian antiquities to brain development among infants.
Similarly, the initial House bill cuts National Institutes of Health funding by more than $1 billion. This tags California, where 7,139 research projects received a total of $3.3 billion in NIH funds last year, according to federal records. At the University of California at Merced, for instance, eight researchers last year received NIH funding, for studies into topics like antibiotic resistant genes
"All of our campuses are going to get hit hard by this," said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.
Capps and other California Democrats summoned reporters Thursday to decry the cuts. For the most part, they did not discuss the federal deficit, which has been the GOP focus.
"We're charting a new course by changing the way we spend in Washington," Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Republican Majority Whip, said on Fox News on Monday. "We are cutting back right now ... to start on a path to actually pay down this debt."
Lawmakers authored more than 580 potential amendments to the original bill. In some cases, they used amendments to back away from touching politically popular groups.
The House, for instance, opted not to cut legal aid funding for the poor as much as originally planned. This is solace to the Fresno-based Central California Legal Services and 10 other federally funded legal aid organizations throughout California that together receive roughly $43 million a year.
Skittish House members likewise backed away from plans to eliminate a police hiring grant program that last year funded new officers at 28 California law enforcement agencies.