- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

House Republican leaders, struggling to get the necessary votes to pass spending cuts and facing resistance from more liberal members, sought support yesterday from conservative Democrats.

“We are calling on Blue Dogs who claim to share our values of fiscal restraint to join us in voting for the Deficit Reduction Act,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, referring to centrist and conservative Democrats.

House Republican leaders aim to bring to the floor tomorrow a bill that would reduce entitlement program spending by $53.9 billion. They have fallen short of crucial votes from centrist Republicans, many of whom say the cuts are too deep, oppose reductions to Medicaid, student loans and other programs, or are fighting to strip a provision that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Senate approved a similar bill that would reduce entitlement spending by about $35 billion. Top Senate Republicans yesterday pledged to try to exceed that figure when the final bill is negotiated with the House.

“We are confident we can achieve more savings in conference, and we are committed to enacting the highest possible savings into law,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said in a joint statement.

Some House Republicans say it is unfair to make them vote on sharp spending cuts for popular programs when the Senate probably will insist on less drastic reductions. “Why should we do $53 [billion] when we know it’s not going to be 53?” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican.

Mr. Cantor insisted leaders are on track for a successful House vote, but it may require them to dump the provision for ANWR drilling. Twenty-five House Republicans sent a letter to the Rules Committee yesterday asking that the provision be removed from the bill.

Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said he is “not prepared to give up on ANWR.”

“There are also things in this bill that [Republican opponents of ANWR drilling] should really want to do,” he said, citing an increase in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Centrist Republicans are also uneasy with the political consequences of voting on large spending reductions and following up with an even larger tax-cut proposal, as Republican leaders plan. “I am concerned with how the tax reductions juxtapose with the spending cuts,” said Rep. Charles Bass, New Hampshire Republican.

Democrats are hammering the message that Republicans want to cut spending for programs that help the poor in order to pass tax cuts for wealthier Americans.

Republican leaders are trying to distance the two proposals. “That tax bill comes later,” Mr. Cantor said. “We are focusing on reducing spending.”

Moderates didn’t buy it. “You can’t separate the two,” said Mr. Boehlert. He said the legislation to cut spending is “just too much on the eve of passing a massive tax-cut bill.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Democrats will be “100 percent opposed” to the proposed spending cuts and he doubts the Blue Dogs will bite on Republicans’ challenge. “Not one of them is going to vote for this bad policy and additional debt,” he said.

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