- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Senate Republicans said they will clip $4 billion from next year’s budget proposed by President Bush, with even the Defense Department a possible target.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, have agreed to cap the discretionary spending Congress controls at $814 billion, following the budget resolution guidelines passed by the Senate two years ago.

Mr. Stevens said everything is open to the cuts as the Senate intends to hold its ground.

“We will live with that budget because that is a budget that protects us. … I think [$814 billion] will be the president’s number when we’re through,” Mr. Stevens said. “I don’t know yet where we will cut, but it’s all fair game.”

Senate Democrats said they have no intention of expanding the budget a penny higher, and Republicans are likely to go along with key Democrats in order to avoid a filibuster during an election year.

Mr. Frist said testimony has not been heard and it is too early to decide where to cut, “but $814 billion is the number.”

Mr. Bush submitted his $2.4 trillion budget earlier this month with $818 billion allotted to discretionary spending — funding for programs not mandated by federal law. The president’s proposal represents an overall increase of nearly 4 percent over his last year’s budget proposal and hasn’t rested well with Democrats.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, called Mr. Bush the most fiscally irresponsible president in history. Some conservatives said the president’s budget proposal didn’t go far enough to restrain government spending and were considering further cuts.

Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and House Budget Committee chairman, said Republicans and the White House should be willing to trim wasteful spending in the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

That is exactly where the Senate leadership appears to be heading. Mr. Bush’s 2005 budget asks for a 0.5 percent increase in domestic spending, which cuts almost $5 billion out of 125 non-defense-related domestic programs, leaving little to trim in that area.

“There are different ways of doing it. We could look at defense for cuts, or look at other areas,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, but he did not indicate any other areas for cuts.

The House accepted Mr. Bush’s proposed cap of $818 billion, and has been working to remain within that limit. But with the Senate number much lower, the House leadership is expected to try to find further cuts.

A bloc of some 90 House conservative and moderate Republicans have vowed to cut or freeze several discretionary spending programs beyond the reductions proposed in the president’s plan, Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, said during the week Mr. Bush presented his budget.

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