- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

A group of Republicans yesterday challenged President Bush to propose spending cuts to cover some of the cost of aid for Hurricane Katrina, saying now is a time for him to show leadership.

“We just can’t throw money at the problem, and if we do throw money at the problem, which seems to my way of thinking some of what we’re doing today, we better figure out how we’re going to handle the financial difficulties that come from that,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.

He joined Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and leaders of the House conservative caucus in saying that the hurricane offers a chance to cut parts of the federal budget.

The lawmakers said the government should spend what is needed to aid hurricane victims, but also must be worried about a deficit that the Congressional Budget Office says would reach $331 billion this fiscal year even without including hurricane spending.

Mr. DeMint said the federal role should be re-evaluated and, in places, should take a back seat.

“Our government needs to take stock of what America is already doing — the money that has already been contributed — and see that we have a better role supporting what America can do on its own.”

The group won’t find much support among Democratic leaders.

“I’m not really into cutting right now,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “I’m into figuring out a way that we can get the Republican majority in the Senate to care about those people down there who are still desperate.”

He said that instead of cutting, Republicans should postpone Medicaid spending cuts they want as part of the budget process. He also said Republicans should put off $70 billion in further tax cuts this year.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said there could be “creative funding” for rebuilding. She suggested an arrangement like the Tennessee Valley Authority or the post-September 11 New York model of a regional board with a credit guarantee from the federal government.

The spending is enraging conservative activists, and members of Congress are proposing alternatives to deficit spending.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, introduced a bill yesterday that would halt all government building except when related to Hurricane Katrina efforts and national security requirements.

Mr. Coburn said it was a “ludicrous claim” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay made earlier this week that he hasn’t seen ways to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere.

In his weekly briefing, Mr. DeLay said it was appropriate to borrow money to pay for hurricane relief, and that the billions of dollars in transportation earmarks should be maintained.

“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I will be glad to do it, but no one has been able to come up with any yet,” he said.

Mr. Coburn said he would “be happy to have that debate with Mr. DeLay.”

He said he has identified $74 billion in cutting room and that one place to start is the $315 million the highway bill spent for a bridge in Alaska that will reach a community of several dozen people, “who have a wonderful ferry system right now.”

Mr. DeLay said Republicans could declare “ongoing victory” and, asked whether the government was running at peak efficiency with little cutting room left, he said, “Yes. After 11 years of Republican majority, we pared it down pretty good.”

Yesterday, DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said his boss “made it very clear that fiscal discipline is an ongoing process — with an emphasis on ‘ongoing.’ ”

“The House of Representatives has, in the past, worked through the budget and reconciliation process to pare down government spending and target wasteful programs,” Mr. Madden said. “We will continue to adhere to those principles as we move forward.”

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