- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2010

Republicans on Thursday poked congressional Democrats for their failure to pass a budget — already two months overdue — and used a meeting at the White House to pressure President Obama and his allies to focus on cutting spending this year.

“The failure of the Democrats in Congress to move a budget really misses a significant opportunity to cut spending now,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said after the meeting, which touched on a wide range of topics.

“I pushed them hard to get serious about cutting the spending. It’s important for the future of our country. Needless to say, it was little agreement,” he said.

Mr. Obama touted his proposal for a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending and said the group of bipartisan leaders had some “very constructive conversations” on reining in record-smashing debt and deficit levels, though the White House cautioned that making spending cuts now could endanger the economic recovery.

The debate over spending has become a hot-button issue as the country’s debt tops $13 trillion and neither the full House nor Senate has voted on a budget to lay out plans for the 2011 spending bills.

Both sides of the aisle have tried to clobber each other over spending. Republicans point to a slew of expensive bills that haven’t been funded, beginning with last year’s $862 billion stimulus package, and criticize Democrats for repeatedly making exceptions to their own rules requiring new spending to be offset with cuts elsewhere.

Democrats, meanwhile, point to years of Republican leadership and blame the fiscal situation on a failure to pay for big-ticket items such as President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.

In his proposed budget, Mr. Obama outlined a three-year freeze on all discretionary spending that’s not security-related. The measure faces an uphill battle because of the election year, when congressional lawmakers in charge of spending are loath to cut programs that benefit their districts. Mr. Obama said the leaders on Thursday had a “good conversation” about adhering to the freeze and suggested that more could be accomplished ahead of a bipartisan fiscal panel’s recommendations coming out later this year, but he did not give details.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he wasn’t aware of any efforts by the president to pressure Congress to pass a budget to guide the nation’s spending this year. Asked on Thursday why the administration is aiming for a spending freeze as opposed to overall cuts, Mr. Gibbs said it’s trying to strike a balance in tough economic times.

“One of the things that we’ve got to be careful about is choking off the economic recovery. We have to deal with our medium- and long-term debt and deficit issues, and obviously we have to make some headway in the short term, as the president has talked about, on wasteful spending,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Democrats face a dilemma on spending. They have added hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal tab over the past year and a half, arguing that it will boost the economy and create jobs. But the unemployment rate remains high, even as pressure builds from Republicans and even from within their own party to begin reining in spending.

Democratic leaders have designated much of their new spending as an emergency, making it exempt from so-called “pay-as-you-go” rules that require offsets.

Republicans are making a campaign issue out of spending. House Republicans are promoting an initiative called “YouCut,” which asks the public to rate proposed spending cuts that lawmakers try to bring to the floor for a vote.

Mr. Obama and congressional leaders devoted much of the meeting Thursday to discussing the government’s response to the devastating BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. The president gave the lawmakers an update on federal efforts and discussed changing current law.

Democrats say the spill highlights the need for Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill, an effort that stalled in the Senate after the House passed a “cap-and-trade” bill last summer.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called for the oil giant to stop making dividend payments to shareholders until it addresses economic assistance claims from businesses that have been affected by the spill.

Republican leaders say they are willing to work with Democrats on legislation directly related to the oil disaster, but warn against using the catastrophe as a rationale to try to push a cap-and-trade bill through the Senate.

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