- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

After Republican leaders mustered the votes to squeeze their spending-cut bills through the House and Senate, they face the toughest test — merging the two very different measures into one proposal that can become law.

The House passed its bill calling for $50 billion in spending cuts on Nov. 18 by two votes. The Senate passed a $35 billion savings measure by a 52-47 vote Nov. 3.

“We got through the first round,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “Got to get through the first round before you get to the championship.”

The most notable difference between the bills is the amount each chamber is willing to cut, but that is just the beginning.

Only the Senate bill would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The House stripped the contentious provision after more liberal Republicans threatened to sink the bill.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and the Senate’s president pro tem, has championed the ANWR provision and promises a tough fight to keep it in the final bill.

The Senate bill includes more new spending than the House measure does and doesn’t touch as many contentious programs.

The House bill, for instance, would reduce the food-stamp program by about $700 million over five years, mostly by tightening eligibility and cutting waste. The Senate bill doesn’t target the program.

The House bill would collect about $11.4 billion over five years from Medicaid by reforming the reimbursement program for prescription drugs and trying to exclude wealthy Americans from long-term care. The Senate bill would reduce both Medicaid and Medicare by a combined $29 billion through reforms but would spend about $20 billion of that, leaving $9.3 billion in savings.

The Senate bill would cut subsidies to student-loan lenders by $21.8 billion, but use $14.6 billion of that savings to boost student loans and grants. The House bill has a net reduction of $14.5 billion over five years for student loans, mostly by targeting lenders and collection agencies.

Only the House bill would reduce funding to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement by $4.9 billion over five years. It would increase the amount of collections passed on to custodial parents, but cut federal payments to states. It also would cut $3.8 billion for the administrative costs of operating the office.

Only the House bill contains a provision to save $3.2 billion by letting the federal government keep money collected from trade law violations instead of passing it on to injured companies.

The House bill would boost funding for a low-income home-heating program by $1 billion.

One House Republican, who wished to remain anonymous, complained about “all this new spending” in the Senate bill.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said some Republican senators “like the House version better” and “want to be saved from themselves.”

But many of the liberal House Republicans who agreed to the chamber’s measure have pledged to oppose the final bill if the cuts are too deep or it approves ANWR drilling. Conservatives are likely to take issue if the final bill looks too much like the Senate version.

Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, an advocacy group trying to defeat both bills, said the provisions for ANWR and the food-stamp program are “potentially intractable differences” between the House and Senate bills.

Mr. Kingston said, “I don’t see a scenario for ANWR staying in,” and he predicted negotiators will be able to produce a final bill.

“We’ll get there,” he said.

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