- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

House Republicans narrowly passed a $50 billion spending-cuts bill yesterday after some down-to-the-wire bargaining with the more liberal wing of their party, but leaders delayed until after the Thanksgiving holiday their $57 billion tax-cut package.

“This was a hard-fought victory,” said acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, after the spending-cuts measure eked through, 217-215, with 200 Democrats, an Independent and 14 Republicans voting against it and 217 Republicans giving their support.

The message from Republican leaders was clear: “We as Republicans are working to rein in the size and scope and reach of the federal government,” said Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, California Republican.

Democrats, on the other hand, spread their own message — saying the Republican effort cruelly cut programs for the poor only to pay for more Republican tax cuts for the rich.

“The Republicans are taking food out of the mouths of children to give tax cuts to America’s wealthiest,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

The House bill’s passage — a particular relief for Mr. Blunt, who took over the post when Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, was indicted in September — almost didn’t happen because of Republican tensions. Conservatives demanded action, but up until late Thursday night, leaders were making concessions with the liberal wing of their party, who objected to some of the program reductions.

Some money was restored for Medicaid and food stamps, and leaders removed the provision most objectionable to the group — drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

President Bush commended the House action — calling the bill “a significant savings package that will restrain spending and keep us on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.”

But that may be tough. The Senate passed a bill that finds only $35 billion in entitlement program savings. In addition to the $15 billion difference in savings, the Senate measure also contains the drilling provision.

“It’s going be tough negotiating,” said one House Republican member.

Many of the more liberal House Republicans have warned they will not vote for the final measure if ANWR is included, or if they do not like its program cuts. Many of them want to see a lower total savings number.

“I would like a lower number, more in the direction of the Senate” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican.

Yesterday, a leading liberal advocacy group began targeting more liberal House Republicans, including Mr. Boehlert, who supported the spending-cuts measure. Republicans, meanwhile, shot down the contention of “cuts” — saying the bill simply reduces the rate of growth over the next five years.

Republican leaders met with members behind closed doors to determine whether to push their $57 billion tax-cut extension package to the floor yesterday. They decided to wait until the week of Dec 5.

It is expected to be a challenge to blend the House tax-cut-extension measure with the Senate’s $60 billion tax-cut extension bill, which passed early yesterday, 64-33. Both bills would extend many of the same soon-expiring tax relief.

The House bill would extend the reduced tax rate for capital gains and dividends income, set to expire in 2008. The Senate bill wouldn’t do that, but it does contain a popular provision absent from the House bill, which ensures millions of taxpayer don’t have to pay the alternative minimum tax.

Some House Republicans pushed to vote on their tax-cut bill yesterday, even if it would have spurred Democrats to hammer their message.

“Nobody should be apologetic about cutting taxes,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. And Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said: “Democrats aren’t going to say nice things about us one way or the other.”

But others wanted to hold off. Mr. Boehlert said he wants to review the tax bill before voting. And one Republican member, who asked to remain anonymous, said some thought the party should focus on getting out the message that not one Democrat supported the budget-savings bill.

In other action:

• A renewal of the USA Patriot Act remained in limbo as an unlikely coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans sought curbs on the powers given law enforcement in the troubled first days after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

• Congress did not block an automatic cost-of-living increase it gets annually. The $3,100 cost-of-living increase for members of Congress will put pay for the rank and file at an estimated $165,200 a year.

• The Senate and the House both approved by voice vote legislation that raises to $18.5 billion the amount the National Flood Insurance Program can borrow from the Treasury every year. In September, Congress voted to raise the borrowing authority from $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion for the agency currently broke because of hurricane-related claims.

• Republican leaders refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, that honored Bruce Springsteen’s long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album, “Born to Run.” Mr. Springsteen lent his voice to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

• Congress agreed yesterday to place a statue of civil rights leader Rosa Parks in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

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