- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

House Republican leaders still think they can achieve sizable reductions to the budget this year and plan to fight additional spending that the Senate tries to include.

“It’s not politically unpopular right now to send a message. We understand the federal government has been faced with extraordinary expenditures and is moving forward with the discipline to meet those challenges,” said House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

Mr. Blunt said House Republicans will try to limit the budget by packaging proposed cuts from the House and the Senate and disregarding new Senate spending.

“If you go to a conference committee with Senate cuts and House cuts that just equal or nearly equal the Senate cuts in this environment and don’t accept the new spending, you [could] very well see these numbers come up to the House numbers,” he said. “The conference committee would more likely be an argument about the Senate spending additions.”

Senate Republican leaders said they didn’t appreciate that strategy.

“I think that’s unrealistic and doesn’t recognize that we have a bicameral Congress,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. “Generally, we try to meet each other halfway.”

House Republican leaders hope to hold a vote next week on amending this year’s budget. They propose to cut $15 billion in entitlement programs, reduce discretionary spending across the board, rescind some money already allocated and eliminate several wasteful programs.

The leaders canceled a vote this week on the $15 billion cut in entitlement programs because they couldn’t muster the 218 votes needed. Republicans still are haggling over program cuts, and some don’t want to vote on the proposal at all.

The leaders, under pressure from conservatives who want a public commitment to spending restraint, are pushing forward with the four-point proposal.

“Conservatives want to know it’s a guarantee, that we’re committed to it,” said a House Republican leadership aide.

“Our members want to see us broadcast this idea to the American people,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

The Senate has no plans to reopen the budget to call for additional cuts, and is trying to meet the original budget goal of $35 billion in reductions while including some new spending.

Mr. Grassley yesterday announced a Finance Committee bill that meets the budget goal of $10 billion in savings by combining about $26 billion in cuts and $16 billion in new spending for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It includes $1.8 billion to cover Medicaid expenses for low-income Katrina victims.

Conservative groups, meanwhile, commended House Republicans but said their plan does not go far enough.

Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, said Congress should eliminate all pork-barrel spending and delay the start of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

“Congress must do more, not less,” he said.

Democrats called the budget reductions painful and said any savings would be offset by the tax cuts that Republicans demand. They expressed hope that the delayed vote will lead the proposal to failure.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Democrats have several ideas to reform the spending process, but won’t accept “cutting for cutting’s sake.”

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