- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

President Bush and congressional Republicans must curtail spending sprees or face demands for new tax increases to cover the resulting budget deficits, two key Republican senators said yesterday.

“Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor — and I’ve never known a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination that this Congress has,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a former captain in the U.S. Navy.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and former majority leader, said he supported some “big cost” items including defense and homeland security spending, but not the massive $400 billion Medicare prescription-drug package passed by Congress last week.

“I am very worried that Republicans have started just ignoring the impact of these spending bills, that the deficit is running up. It’s going to take us quite some time now — years — to begin to ratchet it back down,” Mr. Lott said on ABC’s “This Week” program.

However, in a key procedural vote on the prescription-drug bill last week, Mr. Lott succumbed to pressure on the floor from several party colleagues and provided the needed 60th vote to waive a budget-related rule that Democrats tried to use to kill the proposal.

After casting his ballot, Mr. Lott angrily left the Senate chamber. Mr. McCain backed the Democratic bid not to ignore the Medicare budget limits and go to a final vote on the bill.

In his ABC appearance yesterday, Mr. Lott said he voted as he did because he did not believe in using parliamentary procedures to defeat legislation.

Mr. Lott said yesterday that fiscal discipline “is a problem for Republicans that we’re going to have to think about, we’re going to have to address in the next two or three years.”

“I do think the president is going to have to put down some stronger markers — in terms of authorization of costs. He is going to have to control the appropriations spending process,” Mr. Lott said. “There’s going to be some fiscal restraint that’s going to be required. It’s got to be led by the president. I hope he’ll do that.”

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. McCain said “the numbers are astonishing” and urged the president to “exercise his veto pen” on a $31 billion national energy plan.

“He’s got to do that to emphasize his seriousness,” Mr. McCain said.

“There was no policy initiative in the energy bill. It was just one pork-barrel project larded onto another, to the point where we’re subsidizing a Hooters,” Mr. McCain said.

Nondefense spending has increased overall 13 percent since Mr. Bush took office in 2001. In this fiscal year ending Sept. 30, nondefense spending rose 7 percent, the Congressional Budget Office reported.

Capitol Hill lawmakers departed for the Thanksgiving break with a $375 billion omnibus spending package on the table still to be completed as the operating budget for 10 Cabinet agencies.

Mr. Bush has never wielded a veto pen on any spending bill.

Mr. McCain agreed that the president bears some responsibility to rein in spending.

“The president cannot say, as he has many times, that ‘I’m going to tell Congress to enforce some spending discipline’ and then not veto bills,” said Mr. McCain, whom Mr. Bush defeated to win the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

The increasing debt levels and deficits eventually will affect interest rates and inflation — “the greatest enemies” of middle-income families and retirees, Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Lott said the president’s tax cuts have helped stimulate the economy and that a balanced budget and surplus cannot be attained every year.

However, Congress must “tighten our belts” and more closely examine spending, he said.

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