- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

BALTIMORE — House Republicans said yesterday that President Bush should prepare to face stricter congressional oversight on spending and executive-branch agencies this year.

“I see this as a year where we take substantially greater steps in the direction of oversight,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

Mr. Blunt said House Republicans have not done well at oversight in the past 11 years, initially because they were learning how to be a majority party and then because they didn’t know how to approach oversight of a Republican administration. He said they will have to “get significantly better than we have been.”

The issue arose yesterday in Baltimore, where the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House, was holding its annual retreat. Mr. Blunt and the other candidates running in this week’s leadership elections were asked about oversight.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and RSC chairman, said spending is the top issue for House conservatives, followed by the sanctity of marriage and ethics reforms.

Mr. Pence said the president “needs more tools in the box” to rein in spending. He has proposed rewriting the 1974 budget act so the president would regain the authority to “impound” some spending.

Other Republicans called for Mr. Bush to submit a more honest budget. Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, said Mr. Bush has made a habit of “zeroing out,” or failing to fund, programs in his submitted budgets that he knows Congress will have to fund.

Mr. Issa also noted a growing “resistance” in both wings of the party to supplemental spending bills.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration was pleased with last year’s budget process.

“We were able to keep the growth of discretionary spending below the rate of inflation. We actually cut non-security discretionary spending,” he said.

Last week, Mr. Bush said he is ready to veto spending bills but hasn’t had to because Congress has met his targets. The federal government posted a deficit of $318 billion for fiscal 2005, a drop from 2004, but the Congressional Budget Office last week said the 2006 deficit could be $360 billion.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the cuts Mr. Bush proposed in 2005 were solid but not high-profile, making it tough to show that Republicans were serious about spending restraints.

He said Mr. Bush should eliminate one high-profile spending trophy item in his budget this year.

“We’d like to see something on the wall that you could hang and say, this wasn’t huge money, but it was symbolic we won a battle or two,” he said, suggesting U.N. spending, AmeriCorps, the National Endowment for the Arts or public radio.

“You would have our base so happy,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said Congress needs to conduct its own reform.

“I think a lot of us would first seek to give Congress the line-item veto authority. We’ve lost it, if you haven’t noticed, with all the earmarking,” he said.

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