- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

Conservative grass-roots activists and Republican leaders had mixed reactions to a report yesterday that President Bush will “freeze” nonmilitary discretionary spending to a growth rate of less than 1 percent.

“We want to reduce spending on nondefense and nonterror-related issues, not just limit spending to zero on these issues,” Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, said in an interview on the second day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Arlington.

Reginald Jones, a board member of Project 21, an organization of black conservatives, rejected Mr. Bush’s proposal “to freeze domestic spending while at the same time he is adding on more entitlements in Medicare [and] more for illegal immigrants.”

At yesterday’s meeting, Greg Parke, a Republican seeking to unseat Vermont’s liberal independent Rep. Bernard Sanders, said he didn’t know what impact the Bush freeze would have on the president’s conservative base, even though cutting domestic spending is the way to go.

“Even Franklin Roosevelt cut domestic spending during the war because he realized the need for priorities,” Mr. Parke said.

On Thursday, CPAC activists and some Republican lawmakers in attendance complained that under strong pressure from Mr. Bush the Republican-controlled Congress has engaged in excessive spending and expanded the scope of federal government.

Republican David Rogers, who is running against Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, said he thought the president’s proposal would placate his core voters, many of whom have been grumbling over what they see as excessive spending.

Mr. Feeney noted that in a meeting in Cambridge, Md., more than 40 members of the House Republican Study Committee approved a resolution calling for an actual cutback in discretionary domestic spending and for balancing the budget in five years, rather than the 10 years Mr. Bush proposed.

Mr. Feeney, who had left the Cambridge, Md., meeting to appear on a CPAC panel, said most study committee members support spending increases for defense but not for other things that enlarge the size of government and increase the budget deficit.

Mr. Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, led the CPAC session and told several hundred cheering conservative activists, “We don’t know the name of our opponent on Nov. 2, 2004, but we do know the author of his tax plan: Walter Mondale. Every one of our opponents wants to raise your taxes; President Bush wants to cut them.”

President Nixon trounced Mr. Mondale in the 1972 presidential elections.

Mr. Mehlman also hit the Democratic candidates on their opposition to the war in Iraq.

“Today, when liberty’s survival is threatened by terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, our leading critics offer weakness and vacillation,” he said. “Instead of support, they would cut and run.”

Mr. Feeney said that “no matter who wins the Democrat horse race, we now know the nominee’s platform will be soft on Saddam and tough on taxpayers.”

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