- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

President Bush gave the Republican-controlled Congress a well-needed nudge Wednesday in its inadequate efforts to reduce federal spending. In recent days, the Republican-controlled Senate managed to assemble a five-year, $39-billion spending-restraint-revenue-enhancement package, which the Senate Budget Committee approved Wednesday on a party-line vote. That’s a start.

However, it is not even half of the roughly $80 billion in Katrina/Rita-related emergency appropriations that Congress will have approved after passing the Bush administration’s next supplemental-spending bill for the natural disasters. Moreover, in late April, four months before Katrina struck, the Senate had already committed itself in the 2006 budget resolution to find $34.7 billion in budget savings for mandatory spending programs over the next five years. Thus, in the post-Katrina environment, the Senate has effectively found less than $5 billion in savings over five years to offset the $80 billion (and counting) that will be spent for Katrina.

The Republican-controlled House is hoping to do better. However, in the last two weeks, the Republican leadership has had to postpone two votes aimed at achieving $50 billion in cuts for mandatory spending.

In March, it’s worth recalling, the House actually passed a budget resolution calling for $69 billion in spending restraint on mandatory entitlement programs over five years. That same month the Senate identified only $17 billion in savings. It was at the budget resolution’s conference committee where House and Senate negotiators compromised on $34.7 billion, a figure both chambers approved in late April.

Along came Katrina in August, and the spending spigots really opened up. In September, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay insisted that the House had already removed all the fat from the budget. The conservative Republican Study Committee promptly unveiled a package of more than 100 specific budget offsets that totaled nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, including $102 billion for 2006 alone.

Congress has already approved $62 billion in Katrina spending. The House will soon consider another Katrina spending request from the administration (perhaps $18 billion). Four weeks after this fiscal year began, there is no budget reconciliation; and the House Republican leadership cannot rally enough votes to pass a level of five-year budget savings ($50 billion) that is (a) 27 percent less than the savings endorsed by the House before Katrina and (b) represents about 35 cents for every $100 that the Bush administration proposes to spend over the next five years. Nothing seems to be adding up in either chamber.

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