- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

House Republicans say President Bush must become engaged — personally making phone calls and twisting arms — if he wants the House to approve the $53.9 billion spending-cut plan that party leaders are struggling to shepherd through this week.

“Presidential leadership will be the deciding influence on whether the House of Representatives brings fiscal responsibility to the aftermath of Katrina,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

“If he really wants to get the votes … he has to get engaged in it,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican. He urged Mr. Bush to call congressmen to the White House to secure support for the savings bill. “He can’t rely on one or two people up here to do it.”

Mr. Pence said he has been urging the White House to become fully involved in the party’s fight to rein in out-of-control spending.

“The president of the United States needs to put on pads and a jersey and a helmet and show up for this game next week,” he said.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy on Friday said Mr. Bush will be involved in the House effort.

“The president will do all he can to help pass the deficit-reduction act in the House, including calls, and he looks forward to working with Speaker [J. Dennis] Hastert to do just that,” Mr. Duffy said.

House Republican leaders have been having difficulty securing the votes in their conference to pass the massive bill, which would curb the automatic growth of government by finding about $54 billion in savings from numerous entitlement programs. It’s part of a comprehensive plan — pushed by conservatives — to reform wasteful programs and get spending under control, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which required Congress to immediately dole out $62 billion, with more likely to come.

Mr. Bush on Thursday commended the Senate for passing a similar bill that finds $39 billion in savings from entitlement programs. He urged final action. “Congress needs to send me a spending-reduction package this year to keep us on track to cutting the deficit in half by 2009,” Mr. Bush said.

House conservatives say there’s momentum in their conference to make the fiscal changes. But the size of the bill — which would touch programs under eight House committees — leaves many provisions for individual members to complain about. Some Republicans don’t like the reductions in Medicaid or student-loan spending, while others oppose a provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Centrist Republicans in particular have problems with the measure’s cuts, especially in light of the fact that Republican leaders still insist on extending tax cuts this year — a political point Democrats are hammering home.

Democrats say the savings measure would cruelly cut programs for the poor, while doing nothing to reduce the deficit, because “savings” would be eaten up by the hefty tax-cut package Republicans want to approve later this year. “Could this Congress possibly be more out of step?” asked Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat.

Republicans say that tax cuts have helped the economy and that this year’s effort will simply prevent a harmful tax increase. They say the savings bill won’t cripple any programs and will simply trim some fat.

But some Republican members said the savings bill is hardly ready for floor action. One member, on the condition of anonymity, said he’d be “shocked” if it came to the House floor next week.

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