- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

House Republican leaders are pushing forward, as early as tomorrow, with a plan to cut $50 billion from mandatory spending programs in order to help pay for the billions being spent on Hurricane Katrina relief.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, yesterday said the Spending Restraint Amendment would increase from $35 billion to $50 billion the entitlement cuts originally suggested in this year’s budget blueprint.

Mr. Hastert said leaders also aim to pass an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending. That bill is still being negotiated, and aides said there is concern that making cuts too soon could complicate ongoing negotiations with the Senate over this year’s spending bills.

The aggressive stance comes after Congress was criticized for approving billions of dollars in a highway bill and an energy bill this summer, followed quickly by $62.3 billion in emergency funding for Katrina relief.

Conservative groups, including the American Conservative Union, will hold a press conference tomorrow calling the plan a good start, but demanding that even more be done.

Some conservative lawmakers fear that leaders are backing off an across-the-board cut, since factions are bickering over which types of spending should be subject to the cuts.

Democrats attacked the Republican spending-cut plan as a foolish and cruel move that would hurt the nation’s poorest by slashing key entitlement programs like Medicaid, food stamps and student loans.

“Speaker Hastert and congressional Republicans are desperately trying to distract the American people from their culture of corruption and cronyism,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, blasting what she called the “immoral and financially irresponsible” Republican budget plan.

“Democrats will continue to stand with Katrina and Rita survivors, veterans, students and working families struggling to pay for gas and home-heating oil, medical care and other basic needs.”

But Mr. Hastert and other top Republicans also went on the attack — saying Democrats simply want unrestrained spending and should stop criticizing and come up with a plan of their own.

“Their only answer is to raise taxes in order to have more money to spend,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Senate Democrats today will outline their opposition to the Republican plan and explain their own strategy to care for the country.

It is still not clear which programs will be cut in the House proposal, and by how much, since committee chairmen were working to finalize the numbers.

The Senate doesn’t have plans for a similar budget amendment, however, and is moving ahead with the normal budget process. Senate Republicans have struggled even to meet the $35 billion savings goal.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said yesterday he has compiled a package that still needs approval from three or four finance panel Republicans. He wouldn’t say how much entitlement spending it would cut, since it’s not finalized.

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