Wednesday, October 19, 2005

House Republican leaders are rewriting budget language to include an across-the-board reduction in discretionary spending, in addition to $50 billion in cuts to entitlement programs they have been pushing.

A vote had been planned this week on a proposal to reopen the fiscal 2006 budget and increase entitlement program cuts from $35 billion to $50 billion, but the Republican leaders struggled yesterday to find the 218 votes needed.

They faced opposition from centrist Republicans and criticism from conservatives who said the plan didn’t go far enough.

Conservatives said the leaders were backing away from a promise to cut discretionary spending across the board.

A decision was made late yesterday to expand the package. Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said leaders are rewriting the amendment to include across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending.

“Everything is on the table,” he said, including 98 programs that Republicans think can be streamlined or eliminated.

Republican leaders have been pushing for $50 billion in cuts to automatic spending, and aides said the discretionary spending reductions will be added to that.

Leaders hope to take action next week, despite a day of Republican wrangling yesterday.

“We’re just not there yet; people have questions,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and chief deputy majority whip.

Some Republicans wondered why the House was reopening a budget for the first time since 1977, and whether they can achieve the same goal without a public vote.

Centrist Republicans are concerned about a backlash in their districts if they vote for unpopular spending cuts, particularly if the Senate doesn’t act on the plan.

“There’s just a lot of concern over having to take this vote when the Senate is not going to have to do it,” said Elizabeth Wenk, spokeswoman for Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican. “It’s just very hard to put the moderates in a position to have to vote on these things that aren’t going anywhere. We take a political hit.”

The Senate has no plans to vote on a similar budget amendment to offset costs of federal hurricane relief efforts.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said he is disappointed that Republicans can’t seem to agree on an extra $15 billion in savings over five years.

“The notion that we are having this kind of trouble with those kinds of numbers shows us what trouble we’re in,” he said.

House Democrats, meanwhile, called for Republicans to cancel a vote on the budget amendment, saying the cuts would hurt the poor.

“We can choose to help the people who are affected by Katrina, or we can give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

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