- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Republican leaders’ $53.9 billion deficit-reduction package is encountering objections from many of the party’s lawmakers — and not just the usual centrists upset about cuts to social programs.

Objections to Arctic drilling cut across the spectrum, and the generally conservative Florida delegation is in an uproar over coastal drilling. Killing a program that compensates companies hurt by unfair trade practices is losing support among stalwart Republicans from Idaho and Alabama.

The sweeping bill is the first in eight years to take on the automatic growth in government programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and student-loan subsidies, but it will have to be rewritten if it is going to have a chance to pass later this week.

For many Republican centrists there is simply too much in the bill to dislike, in particular a roster of cuts to social programs used to finance a companion tax-cut bill.

Even loyal Republicans are threatening to kill the entire bill over the single issue they care about.

Since there are so many political hot spots, Republican leaders’ headaches have multiplied.

“This thing is getting to be very top-heavy as a bill,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. “It’s an incredible package deal for moderates one year out from an election.”

Other flash points in the House budget bill:

• Oil drilling: Twenty-four Republicans have signed a letter opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the broader budget bill. There is growing speculation that the Arctic drilling provision will be dumped before floor debate, though Republican leaders probably would try to revisit the issue in final House-Senate talks.

A separate issue is whether to lift a 24-year ban on drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and open a contested tract off the Florida Gulf Coast to oil drilling. Several Florida Republicans are among those most strongly opposed to the plan.

• Unfair trade practices: Twenty-one Republicans have threatened to oppose the bigger budget bill if it contains a provision to kill a program established by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, to dedicate duties paid by foreign companies that unfairly “dump” their exports to U.S. companies harmed by such unfair trading practices. Republican loyalists from states including Idaho, Ohio, Alabama and North Carolina are threatening to defect unless the program is kept alive.

• Medicaid: Already, Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican, has voted against a plan to curb Medicaid spending by $9.5 billion over five years during debate before the Energy and Commerce Committee. Earlier, she drafted a letter — signed by 43 other Republicans — urging no cuts to Medicaid this year.

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