- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Senate budget-makers yesterday said President Bush’s goal to scale back or eliminate 150 programs has a slim chance of winning congressional approval.

The cuts, called for by Mr. Bush during his State of the Union address Wednesday, were lauded by some Republican senators who said the plan was “ambitious,” but gave a common refrain to its chances of success: “good luck.”

“They’re talking about 150 [programs]. I think over a period of two or three years we got two [cuts], so I don’t know what they’re talking about,” New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici said about the plan. “If they are talking about tiny, tiny programs, then maybe but we’ll have to see.”

Mr. Domenici said in the 18 years he headed the budget committee, he could not recall more than five successful program cuts called for by the past three presidents.

“The record in Congress is not particularly good when it comes to reducing and eliminating programs, but there are some times of success that we can point to,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican.

Among some of the cuts expected, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson yesterday said the president wants to consolidate or cut spending for 18 economic and community-development grant programs, decreasing spending from $16.2 billion this fiscal year to $15.5 billion in 2006. No specific programs were named.

Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who currently runs the budget committee, also applauded the president’s effort.

“There is a high degree of interest in fiscal responsibility right now; that means you have to set priorities, and I hope people will,” Mr. Gregg said.

Mr. Gregg warned that the budget committee isn’t the president’s only hurdle. That committee sets program spending limits, then the Senate Appropriations Committee designates how much money to spend on specific programs. The House has its own committee system for passing budgets.

“We don’t get into specific programs in the budget committee, but I believe a fiscally responsible budget requires a hard look at a lot of different programs. We will try to get a top-line number that tries to slow the rate of growth,” he said.

But Democrats argue that the cuts won’t be enough.

“We certainly want government to be more efficient and effective; we don’t have one dollar to waste, but the reality is you could eliminate every dollar in domestic spending that is non-defense, and you would not eliminate this year’s debt,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Mrs. Stabenow said the president must consider rolling back some of his tax cuts if he wants to be taken seriously about cutting the deficit in half in the next five years.

“You can’t take huge amounts of revenue away and then with small cuts in domestic spending pretend to balance the budget. What the president proposed last night is a continued sea of red ink,” she said.

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