Wednesday, June 5, 2013

NBAF at center of budget fight between Obama and House Republicans

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A project near and dear to the hearts of elected Kansas officials is in the middle of the epic budget fight between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans.

The White House on Monday threatened to veto H.R. 2217, which makes appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Contained in that bill is $404 million for the $1.15 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF. The lab, which will be devoted to protection of the nation's food supply, is to be built at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Obama has said NBAF is a critical asset and top priority, but the White House is making the veto threat because it says it wants the specific appropriations bill to be part of the larger discussion about the overall budget.

The administration released a statement that says, "Unless this bill passes the Congress in the context of an overall budget framework that supports our recovery and enables sufficient investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and national security for our economy to compete in the future, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto H.R. 2217 and any other legislation that implements the House Republican Budget framework."

Roll Call reported that the veto threat was a broad warning to Republicans against trying to leverage more spending cuts from the administration in the next battle over raising the debt limit early this fall.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told Roll Call he viewed the White House statement as an empty threat.

While Kansas' all-Republican congressional delegation opposes Obama on nearly everything, they applauded his earlier budget recommendation to fully fund NBAF in the next fiscal year.

In fact, the White House statement also criticizes the bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee because it would only partial fund NBAF.

"The partial funding provided in the bill will delay construction of NBAF, increase project costs, and leave a significant vulnerability unaddressed. Long-standing procurement policy prohibits incremental funding because it undermines program stability and runs counter to sound budgeting principles and fiscal discipline," the statement says.

Obama had included $714 million in his proposed budget to complete construction of the lab. The Kansas Legislature just approved $202 million in bonding authority, on top of an earlier approval of $105 million in bonds and $35 million from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, to complete the project.

Last week, top state leaders gathered in Manhattan to formally break ground on the facility's central utility plant, which will provide a self-contained power supply to the lab.

Kansas was awarded NBAF in 2009 but the project has been delayed over safety and security concerns. Supporters of the project say additional security measures make the facility safe.