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GOP panel maps plan for huge budget cuts

Amtrak, PBS trims pushed; defense safe

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

An influential group of conservative House Republicans issued a blueprint Thursday for slashing the budgets of PBS, Amtrak and the National Endowment for the Arts — and dozens of other government programs and agencies — in a bid to roll back spending and shrink the national debt.

The Republican Study Committee's (RSC) proposed Spending Reduction Act of 2011 calls for lowering federal spending by $2.5 trillion during the next 10 years, but it has little chance of becoming law in its current form. Nevertheless, the group's leaders say they hope their plan will influence lawmakers to rethink how they spend taxpayer dollars.

"The RSC is there — as my dad used to say — to give [House Republicans] that friendly persuasion," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, RSC chairman.

"That's our job, to give that nudge that's needed to make sure we act like [Republicans]. And I happen to believe that when we act like us, it's not only good for Republicans, but more importantly, it's good for the country."

While exempting defense, homeland security and veterans programs, the bill would return 2011 discretionary spending to 2008 levels, which RSC officials said would save $80 billion.

In the following decade, the measure would hold such spending to 2006 levels for an estimated savings of $2.29 trillion, the group said.

This "gives us a $2.5 trillion head start in the race to preserve the fiscal stability of the United States," said Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, who heads the RSC's task force on the budget. "To achieve long-term fiscal stability, we must finish the race by making the tough decisions Congress has put off for far too long."

To reach its spending goals, the group has proposed a 15 percent cut to the civilian federal work force and an end to federal control of insolvent mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The RSC also proposed a laundry list of program cuts to save billions of dollars more, including annual savings of $445 million from cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $335 million annual savings from combined cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, $1.565 billion annual savings in cuts to Amtrak, and $52 million annual savings from cuts in the national Energy Star program.

The proposal also calls for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that "prevailing" local wages be paid on public-works projects - a move the group says would save more than $1 billion annually. Labor unions have been strong supporters of the law.

Though 165 of the House's 242 Republicans are RSC members, it's uncertain if the chamber's GOP leaders will take up the bill.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he applauded the spending-cuts proposal, saying, "I look forward to these cuts and others being brought to the floor for an up-or-down vote."

But House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, so far has been noncommittal on the plan.

"Our immediate goal [is] to cut spending to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "That's what we pledged, and that's what we'll fight for.

"But that will be the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to cut spending and create jobs - and we appreciate every member's input."

The first big test regarding the reception of the group's proposals by House Republican leaders will come in a few weeks when the chamber takes up a measure to fund the federal government after a stopgap budget deal expires March 4.

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing its own spending bills and could prove reluctant to embrace the RSC's ideas.

A senior House GOP aide said the RSC's suggestions for specific spending cuts "are appreciated" and the House Appropriations Committee will look at "some of the RSC ideas."

But some Republican budget and spending analysts say privately that the RSC's saving projections are way off and that the $2.5 trillion in estimated savings is highly inflated.

Mr. Jordan said Thursday he hadn't spoken with Mr. Boehner about the group's proposal but stressed it's a work in progress — not a final draft.

"Is there going to be debate and discussion as we move forward? Certainly," he said. "But we think this is a good first step, and we're willing to have that debate."

Mr. Jordan left open the possibility of cuts in an area long favored by many of his fellow Republicans: defense.

"Not always easy for [Republicans] to do," said Mr. Jordan during a brief Thursday speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think thank. "On the left, the first thing they want to cut is always defense, and conservatives say, 'No, that's what we're supposed to spend tax dollars.'"

"But we have to be willing to look at that area as well [and to see] if there are inefficiencies there as well [that could be cut] that don't jeopardize our men and women in uniform, don't jeopardize the security of this nation."

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