- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Cutting government spending this year is the first big test for the reorganized House Republican leadership team, with some conservatives saying a failure could have major political ramifications.

“We can’t afford to go into an election year with a record of fiscal irresponsibility,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been pushing for mandatory program cuts and an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending.

“This is the first test of the leadership team. … It’s Roy Blunt’s test more than anything.”

The House Republican leadership team was reorganized in September after Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, left that leadership post after being indicted for conspiracy to launder money.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and his team are trying to shepherd a proposal that would go beyond the budget recommendation and find an additional $15 billion in savings from entitlement programs — bringing the budget savings to $50 billion.

They’re also trying to negotiate an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending for later in the year.

“Leaders have indicated they want to cut with us and help us, but it’s going to be a test of their leadership whether they get the votes or not,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Flake said that if the team does not deliver, he will circulate a petition to hold new Republican leadership elections. He said leaders should be “cracking heads” as they did a few years ago for the forthcoming Medicare prescription-drug program.

“This leadership has helped ramp up spending. We’ve got to turn it around,” Mr. Flake said. “If they’re willing to do it, the rank and file will stick with them.”

But Mr. Blunt said that rank-and-file Republicans hold the key to spending cuts.

“It’s really a determination of whether our members want to do this or not,” Mr. Blunt said yesterday.

Mr. Flake said if there are not enough votes to pass the plans, leaders should look other places to cut spending.

The role of House Republican leadership right now, Mr. Blunt said, is to secure enough votes for the mandatory-savings measure. He said most of the entitlement “cuts” being proposed are just slowing the growth rate of some programs.

The package, expected on the floor next week, probably will end up exceeding the goal of $50 billion in savings, Mr. Blunt said, and leaders “are still looking at” across-the-board discretionary cuts.

Mr. Flake said he worries that leaders are backing off the across-the-board cuts, but others are more confident in the leaders’ general spending-cut efforts.

“From everything I’ve seen, the leaders take this very, very seriously,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Blunt is doing a capable job and that he sees it “as a test of our conference.”

Mr. Pitts agreed, but said the outcome depends largely on how aggressive leaders are in getting votes.

“They worked hard on Medicare; they worked hard on other issues. They’re going to have to work hard on this one,” he said.

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