- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

House conservatives say their battles with more liberal Republican colleagues over spending cuts is really about the party’s direction and its role as a governing majority.

Republican leaders last week canceled a House floor vote on a proposal for $50 billion in savings from entitlement programs because they couldn’t find enough votes.

They aim to bring the bill back to the floor today, before voting on an extension of President Bush’s tax cuts.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said he and other conservatives “dug in” last spring and demanded that their leaders rein in out-of-control spending. Since then, he said, “the advocates of big spending within the Republican majority have been spoiling for a fight, and they are going to get one.”

“It’s time that fiscal conservatives won a round,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

Conservatives are frustrated that the proposed spending cuts lack the Republican votes to pass. They say the bill is a small first step toward returning their party to fiscal discipline.

A band of more liberal House Republicans has opposed cuts to Medicaid, student loans and other programs, and persuaded leaders last week to strip a provision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The tension stems from a disagreement about what it takes to keep the Republican majority after elections next year.

More liberal Republicans fear their constituents will heed the message of Democrats that Republicans want to cut programs that help the poor while enacting tax cuts that benefit the rich.

“That’s the way it’ll be painted from a political point of view,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and president of Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of centrist members.

He pointed out that some House Republicans represent “Democratic districts that George Bush didn’t win.”

Mr. Pence said Republicans have strayed from their fiscal principles and presided over massive spending increases in the past several years.

“We have a Republican majority in Congress, but we don’t have a conservative majority,” Mr. Pence said. “Abandoning our commitment to fiscal discipline and limited government jeopardizes our majority.”

The vote today on the proposed spending cuts will be the first major test for House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, who took over the post in late September after Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, was indicted.

Less-conservative Republicans say their party will be rewarded for diversity of opinion and healthy debate.

“My understanding … is that people are gaining respect for Republicans in general because we’re not just a bunch of sheep that follow the same course,” said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland Republican. That idea “might not play well with Rush Limbaugh,” he said, but is apparent in his district.

“What you see now is the maturity of the majority,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican. “It demonstrates … openness to differing opinions on the part of the leadership.”

Mr. Flake, however, said the more liberal Republicans have been “getting their way for years” on large spending increases.

Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, warned that the House needs to act, even if the liberal wing doesn’t like it. If Republican leaders think otherwise, he said, “then I don’t want to be part of that team.”

“The therapy sessions are over,” he said. “To me, it’s decision time. Who are we?”

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