- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

House Republicans, after meeting for two hours yesterday, said they want to spend less than President Bush’s proposed 2005 budget, and leaders pledged that “everything is on the table” this year for cutting spending.

“Clearly, what’s emerging is a consensus between moderates and conservatives to hold the line on spending even more than the president’s budget,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said after yesterday’s two-hour meeting of the House Republican Conference.

He said that there is a desire among most Republicans “to have a more frugal budget than the White House” and that “we can do more to reduce spending” than the administration wants.

“Most of the sentiment is that we ought to be under the president’s budget,” agreed Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, adding that there was “considerable discussion about freezing” spending.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and co-chairman of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, said although party centrists don’t necessarily want a leaner budget than Mr. Bush’s, the consensus is that the budget they craft should be “that or less.”

House Republican leaders held the meeting yesterday to discuss how best to address the 2005 budget and reduce Mr. Bush’s projected $521 billion deficit for 2004.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. Castle said not one Republican in yesterday’s meeting proposed exceeding Mr. Bush’s budget. Mr. Ryan said the Bush figures would be treated as a “ceiling.”

Republican leaders did not announce a specific plan, but said all areas of government — including entitlement programs — are subject to cuts this year.

“We need to look at areas that we can pare back, and everything is on the table,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “Nothing is sacred.”

He said crafting a budget that spends less overall than Mr. Bush’s was “part of the discussion” yesterday but “is not etched in stone at this point.”

Mr. Bush proposed a $2.4 trillion budget for 2005 that would hold most discretionary spending to a 0.5 percent increase and terminate 65 federal programs in an effort to trim the 2004 deficit from $521 billion to $364 billion. The president proposed increasing defense spending by 7 percent and homeland-security spending by 10 percent.

The specifics of a House Republican budget plan still are being discussed. The conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC), to which Mr. Ryan belongs, wants to cut nondefense discretionary spending by 1 percent and hold mandatory spending to a growth rate of 1 percent, he said.

Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, said he was excited by yesterday’s meeting because it shows that the party is serious about cutting spending.

“As a member of the class of ‘94, it’s exhilarating; there’s really passion in that room,” he said.

He said the House “doesn’t want to raise expectations above what’s achievable” in this year’s budget, but that “some kind of freeze” in spending might be doable.

A Republican leadership aide agreed and said the White House has promised to work with House Republicans if they think they can pass such a budget.

The RSC and Mr. Castle’s Tuesday group yesterday jointly proposed 12 principles for reforming the overall budget process, including requiring the congressional budget to be signed into law by the president and mandating that any spending beyond those caps triggers an automatic across-the-board reduction in federal spending for all accounts except Social Security and Medicare.

The Republican leadership aide called the joint agreement “significant” and said it has a good chance of passing the House.

Mr. Ryan said lawmakers responsible for doling out the money on the Appropriations Committee remained quiet in yesterday’s meeting. But Mr. Wamp, who is a member of the appropriations panel, said they’re ready to carry out a tough budget.

“I think the Appropriations Committee is ready to carry the water,” Mr. Wamp said.

Among other ideas being put forth to save money, Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, yesterday proposed capping the cost of the new Medicare prescription-drug law at its initial estimate of $395 billion over 10 years.

The Bush administration recently came out with a revised cost estimate of $534 billion for the new law, but both lawmakers say that is unacceptable and that costs should be held to the initial estimate.

In the Senate, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, said “historically, election year means more spending” not less, but there is a move this year toward more fiscal restraint.

He said defense and security spending is clearly needed, however, and it’s “a delicate balance we’re trying to strike.”

Mr. Chambliss said he looks forward to working with Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, to “make sure we don’t spend more than we need to.”

Meanwhile, the Senate’s top Budget Committee Democrat — Kent Conrad of North Dakota — said Republicans “aren’t serious” about reducing the deficit because they insist on making Mr. Bush’s tax cuts permanent, a pledge House Republicans reiterated yesterday.

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