- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

House Republican leaders are battling to follow through on their pledge to cut spending, as the Budget Committee today votes on a measure that would reform and cut entitlement-program spending to the tune of $53.9 billion in savings.

Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and the panel’s chairman, said he has the votes in committee to pass the massive measure — a collection of proposals from eight House panels.

But leaders continue working to quell objections from various Republicans in anticipation of a House vote next week.

Some don’t like the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, others are unhappy that it would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and some don’t know why the House has to vote on painful cuts when it’s not clear that the Senate will ultimately follow suit.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, acknowledged the concerns, but said he was confident Republicans “are going to come together and be united as a conference” in order to “get a bill we can pass.”

Democrats angrily accuse the bill of cutting key programs to the poor, but Mr. Nussle said the proposal focuses on reforming outdated programs and eliminating waste.

“It’s really about trying to take programs, in many instances invented 20, 30 years ago, and modernize them,” he said.

The proposal finds $69 billion in savings, but also has about $15 billion in new spending, including some for hurricane relief.

The bill would reduce mandatory program spending in several ways, including: $844 million from the food stamp program by tightening who is eligible; $760 million from conservation programs, $14 billion from student loans and $12 billion from reforming Medicaid.

Revenue also would come from selling public land and allowing the government to keep the fines it collects from companies that violate some federal laws.

One of the provisions that has produced the most opposition would save $2.5 billion by opening up ANWR, a fight Mr. Nussle concedes could derail the bill. “It’s the reason I have not included that provision as a savings provision in my budgets,” he said.

House leaders are also compiling a tax-cut package, which some of their Republicans aren’t thrilled about, especially in light of the spending reductions.

“A number of members are concerned with the double gambit of cutting taxes at the same time as cutting spending,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican.

Mr. Castle said some also worry, “are we voting on cuts in the House that aren’t going anywhere in the Senate.”

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, said he is voting no on the spending-reduction bill, because he opposes the ANWR provision, cuts to Medicaid and student loans, and the parallel push for more tax cuts.

“With the war costing more than we ever imagined and Katrina just slapping us in the face, I don’t see having spending cuts, and then having tax cuts go forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, conservatives such as Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, complain leaders aren’t being aggressive enough in securing the spending cuts.

“If we can’t get that, then our problems are bigger than we think,” Mr. Flake said.

Top House Budget Committee Democrat John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina doubts any Democrats will defect and help Republicans pass the bill. “I think it’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said of passing the bill.

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