House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.
Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.
"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."
Congress has passed two hurricane relief bills totaling $62.3 billion, all of which will be added to the deficit.
Republican leaders have been under pressure from conservative members and outside watchdog groups to find ways to pay for the Katrina relief. Some Republicans wanted to offer an amendment, including cuts, to pay for hurricane spending but were denied the chance under procedural rules.
"This is hardly a well-oiled machine," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "There's a lot of fat to trim. ... I wonder if we've been serving in the same Congress."
American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene said federal spending already was "spiraling out of control" before Katrina, and conservatives are "increasingly losing faith in the president and the Republican leadership in Congress."
"Excluding military and homeland security, American taxpayers have witnessed the largest spending increase under any preceding president and Congress since the Great Depression," he said.
Mr. Keene said annual nonmilitary and non-homeland security spending increased $303 billion between fiscal year 2001 and 2005; the acknowledged federal debt increased more than $2 trillion since fiscal year 2000; and the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill is estimated to increase the government's unfunded obligations by $16 trillion.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), said if Mr. DeLay wants to know where to cut, "there are plenty of places to reduce."
His group soon will release a list of $2 trillion in suggested spending cuts over the next five years, and he said Congress also could cut the estimated $20 billion to $25 billion in pet projects that make their way into must-pass spending bills each year.
CAGW and the Heritage Foundation also suggest rescinding the 6,000-plus earmarked projects in the recently passed highway bill.
But Mr. DeLay said those projects are "important infrastructure" and eliminating them could undermine the economy as Congress tries to offer hurricane relief.
"It is right to borrow to pay for it," he said. "But it is not right to attack the very economy that will pay for it."
Mr. Schatz, though, said the highway bill included projects such as flowers for the Ronald Reagan freeway in California, which he said aren't essential spending.
Mr. DeLay said the budget this year was pared down and 100 programs or offices were eliminated in this year's spending bills. "We have been doing that for 11 years," he said. He said it's an "ongoing process" that will be more complete after this year's budget process, which calls for cuts to Medicaid and other entitlement programs.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican, agreed that Republicans "have been more fiscally sound than the Democrats were in their decades in the House." He acknowledged that "we're still trying to improve," and noted Mr. DeLay is leading the fight to reform the budget process.
"We've had a good start, but many of us want to see the government be more fiscally sound and conservative in the future," Mr. McHenry said.