- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fiscal conservatives laid down a $125 billion challenge to the Senate yesterday, proposing a package of spending cuts and delays in other programs they say would offset Hurricane Katrina costs.

The seven Republican senators’ plan includes five major savings: a $16 billion cut in discretionary nondefense, non-homeland security spending; delaying the full prescription-drug benefit by two years, with the exception that low-income seniors will get their benefit on time; raising Medicare costs for seniors who make more than $80,000, or $160,000 per couple; removing earmarked projects from the recently passed highway bill; and freezing the cost-of-living adjustment for all federal civilian employees.

“I am totally confident that the Republican base is upset and angry about the fiscal indiscipline that we practiced here in the Congress and the mortgaging of our children and our grandchildren’s futures,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and one of the group’s leaders.

The cuts would total $125 billion over two years, the senators said. They said they will force votes as the budget process plays out this year and, possibly, on another hurricane-related emergency spending request expected by the end of the year.

So far, however, the fiscal conservatives haven’t had much luck — even within their own ranks.

In the last few weeks, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, has offered three different spending-cut amendments: to revamp the Defense Department’s troubled Web-based travel-reservation system, to shift money from a parking garage and other earmarks to rebuild the Gulf region and to shift money from two bridges in Alaska to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridges near New Orleans.

Each failed, and even some of the group of seven voted against Mr. Coburn.

Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, who opposed both the defense travel system and the Alaska bridges cuts, said yesterday those cuts were too small to warrant a vote.

“What I’ve tried to put my focus on is having a significant amount of money that will make a difference to the deficit in the future,” he said.

He and Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said a larger package actually may be easier to support because then everyone will have to compromise.

For now, both chambers are moving ahead with plans for more modest cuts this year through the budget process.

On the House side, Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said members of his party agree there will have to be an across-the-board discretionary cut, though they haven’t reached a target.

But some House Republicans have said they cannot support a cuts package, and Democratic leaders in both chambers remain opposed to cuts, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, calling them “immoral.”

“It’s interesting to me to note that for all the billions that we’ve spent in Iraq, no one looked for offsets for that,” he said. “No offsets for the tax cuts that have taken place. And, in fact, the week after we do the budget cuts, they’re going to then do more tax cuts. The Republicans simply have different priorities than we have.”

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