- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

President Bush's effort to limit spending increases and cut congressional pork might unite him with an awkward budget ally Sen. John McCain, who has been crowding the stage ever since Mr. Bush took office.

Mr. Bush wants to cut congressional "earmarks" the euphemism lawmakers use for one-time spending that the rest of the world calls pork by $4.3 billion. It's part of the president's overall goal of holding the increase in discretionary spending to 4 percent.

But the Senate last week approved a budget that would raise discretionary spending by nearly 8 percent, roughly the same rate as President Clinton got in last year's budget. Mr. Bush has threatened to veto a budget with such a large increase in spending.

"It'll be interesting to see whether Congress will keep out earmarks so as not to embarrass the president," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition. "This may be one area where he gets help from John McCain."

Few lawmakers have spoken out against pork-barrel spending in recent years more than Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, whose office calculated last year's total pork at $25.9 billion.

But few Republicans this year have irked the White House like Mr. McCain, who demanded two weeks in the midst of Mr. Bush's legislative agenda for the Senate to debate his campaign finance bill. Tension between the two camps has remained palpable since Mr. Bush defeated Mr. McCain last year in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

David Williams, vice president at Citizens Against Government Waste, laughed for several moments when asked about the prospects of Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush fighting pork together. Then he said: "Bush is talking a great game. For the past eight years, we've had absolutely no hope [of cutting pork]. But in September, will he have enough momentum or will he be schooled by the appropriators?"

Mr. Bush's quest to limit spending will face an uphill battle in the Senate, especially on agriculture and health care. Even Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a statement yesterday that there is "consensus in the Senate for more money for agriculture and Medicare."

The administration's budget would cut overall spending on the Agriculture Department from $19.3 billion to $17.9 billion. National Farmers Union President Leland Swenson said yesterday the budget "totally fails to address the ongoing crisis in rural America."

Mr. Swenson said the Bush budget contains no money for "supplemental assistance" for farmers to counter low prices. The Senate version of the budget allocates $9 billion for that item.

He also criticized proposed cuts in conservation and rural development initiatives. "That's a real slap in the face to farmers trying to help themselves," Mr. Swenson said. "I'm very, very hopeful we'll have the Senate aggressively rewrite this budget."

Democrats also served notice that they will contest Mr. Bush's budget on issues ranging from the environment to child care.

"President Bush's budget leaves children behind, the environment behind and access to health care behind," said Sen. Jon S. Corzine, New Jersey Democrat. "This budget poses a risk to the environment and to public health by reducing funding for clean air, clean water and pollution prevention."

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