Conservative Republicans say Hurricane Katrina provides them a chance to win long-fought battles against spending for public television, foreign aid and highway pork projects, and to take on a list of other cuts they have been seeking for years.
"The only thing that's changed is everything," said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. "The American people expect -- particularly Republican majorities in Washington to do -- to make the hard choices."
House conservatives offered a list of spending cuts to save $500 billion over 10 years -- more than enough to cover hurricane recovery costs and continue to give tax cuts, they said.
The cuts included common targets, such as public broadcasting, Amtrak and U.N. contributions that have survived challenges in the past. The conservatives, under the banner of the 110-member Republican Study Committee, also called for postponing Medicare's forthcoming prescription-drug program and increasing premiums on part of Medicare.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said the hurricane focuses attention on his party in Congress.
He said if Republicans don't meet the challenge of spending during this crisis, then "we're going to be telling the American people we're no different than the guys who controlled Washington our whole lives and that Republicans don't have any more guts than the Democrats had to do a responsible budget."
A group of Senate Republicans will offer their own list of recommended cuts today.
Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said savings should come through the budget process to which Congress has committed to for later this year.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis said Republicans already have accomplished spending cuts and Katrina wouldn't force a major change.
"How can $100 billion or $60 billion change everything when our whole package is pushing $1 trillion," the California Republican said.
The House, meanwhile, passed a $6 billion package yesterday to encourage giving to charitable organizations helping Katrina victims. The bill also allows victims to withdraw money penalty-free from individual retirement accounts.
The House vote was 422-0. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent last night.
President Bush made clear yesterday that he will continue to push for additional tax cuts for hurricane victims, including providing about $2 billion in tax breaks to businesses to build or expand in the affected areas.
"There's nothing there, in many parts of it," Mr. Bush said in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. "It makes sense to provide economic incentive, create economic incentives for jobs to exist."
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan repeated Mr. Bush's call to find cuts to pay for some of Katrina's costs.
He said Congress should look at $20 billion in programs the White House proposed eliminating in its budget this year, and said Office of Management and Budget officials are meeting with members of Congress to talk about cuts.