- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday said an across-the-board freeze on federal spending is needed to reel in President Obama´s massive budget plan, signaling a more active Republican stance in fighting the president’s agenda.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, also said the president is pursuing a “socialist” form of government that will stifle the free market.

Mr. Grassley told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that a spending freeze is necessary to get the federal deficit under control and to show voters that the government is capable of living within its means in hard times.

“What you get when you have an across-the-board freeze is everybody is seen as contributing something,” Mr. Grassley said.

“Congressmen don’t get an increase in [pay], government pensions don’t go up, you don’t charge senior citizens more for their Medicare premium than you did the year before,” he said, adding that a three-year freeze would produce a more dramatic effect.

As the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, Mr. Grassley figures to play a central role in the fate of some of the president’s top priorities, including tax reform, health care and energy. Mr. Grassley’s collegial relations with Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, only increases his clout.

He called for the freeze after Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus plan and proposed a $3.5 trillion 2010 budget, both with major spending programs designed to jump-start the economy and fund Mr. Obama’s major policy goals.

Mr. Grassley, a five-term senator and noted deficit hawk, said Mr. Obama’s promises to scrutinize congressional budgets and cut waste would barely make a dent in the projected deficits.

“Over a period of time, there’s something predictable about a freeze, and over a period of time it makes a big difference,” said Mr. Grassley, who noted that he had backed a similar freeze in the mid-1980s under President Reagan. “The multiplier effect of freezing something for three years is very dramatic.”

In often pointed language, Mr. Grassley called Mr. Obama’s spending plans a “trend toward socialism” that will undermine the private sector.

Asked whether the Democratic Party should be renamed the “Democratic-Socialist Party,” Mr. Grassley said, “I think it would be harmful to rename the party, but it wouldn’t be harmful to say there’s a big trend toward socialism within this budget.”

He noted that the federal tax take - which averaged 18 percent of gross domestic product for two generations - would rise above 20 percent under Mr. Obama’s plan, coupled with massive deficits for at least a decade. The result: The federal government would take command of an ever larger share of the economy.

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