- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Senate Republicans are flocking to a spending-control bill that would require Congress to nearly balance the budget by 2012 and enforce that mandate by imposing severe, across-the-board spending cuts in all programs except Social Security.

In a revival of 1980s-style reforms that helped eliminate deficits 10 years later, nearly half of the Senate’s 51 Republicans have signed onto the bill, authored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg. The New Hampshire Republican’s committee is expected to approve the measure in a markup starting today.

No Democrats are backing the bill because it does not attempt to exert control over tax cuts, which have contributed to record budget deficits exceeding $300 billion since 2002. Committee Democrats may sponsor an amendment subjecting tax cuts as well as new spending programs to pay-as-you-go rules that expired in 2002, which often were endorsed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Included in the bill is the line-item veto sought by President Bush, but the administration has been cool to elements of the package that would impose broad disciplines on spending, arguing that Congress should focus on taking smaller steps that are more achievable in an election year.

Yet the package addresses a political problem: shoring up support among Republicans disaffected over the party’s inability to control spending.

“We can’t just keep ignoring the problem” of spending on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, which is forecast to reach unsustainable levels when baby boomers retire, Mr. Gregg said.

“This attitude that we’ll talk about it but not do anything about it is unacceptable,” he said, attributing the popularity of the measure, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and 22 other Senate Republicans, to a return to the party’s roots.

“Most of our party came to Washington to control spending, and we have not done that,” he said. “This runs to the basic philosophy of Republicans.”

Without backing from the White House, the measure’s fate in the full Senate is uncertain. Democrats are expected to filibuster any measure that hits entitlements and excludes controls on tax cuts. Mr. Gregg said he doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, although he might be able to muster a 51-vote majority.

Mr. Frist also may decide to break the bill into pieces that have a greater chance of passing, such as the line-item veto. Aimed at reining in Congress’ pork-barrel-spending habits, the bill would enable the president to veto items in tax and spending bills that favor narrow interests. Congress would have to reapprove the vetoed items under fast-track procedures for them to remain.

The bill would reinstate caps on discretionary spending — a broad category including defense, foreign aid and nearly every other government branch except automatic benefits or transfer programs.

It also would force a reduction in “emergency” spending bills that burgeoned to as much as $160 billion in recent years and routinely contain non-emergency spending items. No more than $30 billion in emergency spending would be allowed by 2009.

That cap would be enforced by across-the-board discretionary spending cuts by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

OMB also would impose across-the-board cuts in entitlement programs except Social Security, interest on the debt and contractual obligations, if Congress didn’t achieve targets that reduce the deficit to no more than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2012.

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