- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

House Republican leaders are ready to reopen the 2006 budget process to find more spending cuts to offset Hurricane Katrina relief costs, with the Budget Committee chairman wanting to find $20 billion in cuts.

Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, wants a 2 percent across-the-board cut in discretionary spending, or about $17 billion, and wants to find about $3.5 billion in cuts to entitlement spending. That would come on top of the $34 billion cut to entitlement spending Congress is already scheduled to make.

“I will propose an amendment to the budget for fiscal year 2006 calling for additional savings — in both mandatory and discretionary spending — to make a down payment on disaster relief,” he said.

House Republican leaders, including Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, support reopening the budget to cut spending, though they have not endorsed Mr. Nussle’s specific call for a 2 percent across-the-board cut.

“The speaker believes Congress can and should do much more to tackle the cost of Hurricane Katrina,” said his spokesman, Ron Bonjean. “We are working around the clock with our leadership, with committee members, the Senate and the White House.”

The White House didn’t take a position on Mr. Nussle’s proposal, but conservatives said they were pleased the debate had shifted from earlier, when Republican leaders were prepared to borrow all of the money and add it to the deficit.

“If we can’t do this, then we are in bigger trouble than we want to admit as a party going into midterm elections,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. “It’s certainly welcomed, but it’s not going to be enough.”

Democrats remain adamantly opposed to cuts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, urged Republicans to cancel all of the spending cuts as well as the $70 billion in tax cuts called for in the budget.

“We disagree with Republicans who are using Katrina as a rationale to justify reconciliation cuts to safety-net programs,” they wrote in a letter to Republican leaders.

“While we are deeply committed to fiscal responsibility, we don’t understand why many Republicans believe that helping victims of Katrina meet their urgent needs and rebuilding the Gulf Coast require an offset, but rebuilding Baghdad or giving tax cuts to the wealthy does not.”

Mr. Bush on Tuesday said he wants deeper cuts to entitlement programs.

“This is an area where I believe we can find substantial offsets to help pay for ongoing Katrina operations or Rita operations,” the president said.

A spokesman for the administration’s Office of Management and Budget said the talks on Capitol Hill were a good sign.

“It’s encouraging to see growing interest in spending restraint,” said Scott Milburn. “Even as we work to secure the necessary resources for key national priorities like the war on terrorism, we are committed to working with Congress to find ways to offset additional Katrina spending and that process is ongoing.”

Conservatives said they have already changed the debate since the president and speaker are now talking about some cuts, not just borrowing.

“I’m very heartened that this week there are a number of calls from the White House and the Capitol to offset the spending,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and head of House conservatives’ budget task force. “Two or three weeks ago, that was not the case.”

Mr. Nussle also said he wants the nonemergency reconstruction proposals to be a part of the regular budget process for fiscal year 2007.

That could help control the amount of spending because it becomes a part of the general budget debate. The emergency supplemental-spending bills for Iraq, on the other hand, are not part of the budget debate and are subject to less scrutiny.

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