Updated: Republicans target Shore facility, federal workers
Senate Republicans proposed to kill a planned State Department security training facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore as part of a sweeping spending and tax alternative Thursday.
The Republican substitute failed to gain approval in the Democrat-dominated chamber, but the measure represented the second swing at the controversial Ruthsburg, Md., center by Republicans in recent weeks, suggesting that it has attracted the attention of conservatives in Washington. The initial attempt to zero out funding for construction also failed.
It was blocked Thursday on a largely party line vote, 57-41, with only one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, siding with 40 Republicans in support of the measure.
As part of their substitute proposal, Republicans wanted to eliminate a proposed 2011 pay raise for federal workers, freeze federal hiring and rescind about $38 billion in unspent stimulus dollars, including money for the proposed facility in Queen Anne's County.
The Republican amendment was designed to finance many of the spending goals that Democrats are pushing, by making cuts elsewhere. It would not provide $24 billion in federal aid that Democrats want to give hard-pressed state governments for health care programs that assist poor and working-class residents.
Liberals claim the Republican measure would have forced an effective shutdown of the federal government by jamming a five percent annual spending cut into the final four months of the fiscal year.
South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, pushed the tax-and-spending alternative as the Senate continued to struggle with a major piece of legislation that would extend unemployment insurance and roll back a proposed reduction in fees paid to doctors under the Medicare program.
In targeting the Ruthsburg facility, Republicans want to return the $75 million in stimulus money to the federal treasury that was set aside for land acquisition and other initial costs of the State Department center, which is designed to provide anti-terrorism training to U.S. diplomats and others.
The State Department plan has attracted vocal opposition from environmentalists and others in Queen Anne's County who don't want the center built on about 2,000 acres of privately owned land in a rural area about a half-hour's drive from the Bay Bridge. Proponents of the project cite the findings of a public opinion poll they bankrolled that showed most county voters in favor of the project.
Here is the relevant provision of the Thune amendment (complete with a misspelling of the tiny crossroads village where the federal government wants to build the security center):
SEC. 411. RESCINDING A STATE DEPARTMENT TRAINING FACILITY UNWANTED BY RESIDENTS OF THE COMMUNITY IN WHICH IT IS PLANNED TO BE CONSTRUCTED.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be spent to construct a State Department training facility in Ruthsberg, Maryland, and any funding obligated for the facility by Public Law 111-5 are rescinded, Provided That, this section does not prohibit funds otherwise appropriated to be spent by the State Department for training facilities in other jurisdictions in accordance with law.