- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2011

House Republicans unveiled a spending bill Friday night that calls for deep cuts to many federal programs, a move they say will shed significant government waste, lower the deficit and spur the economy.

But in a taste of the budget fights on tap as President Obama prepares to release his fiscal 2012 budget request Monday, Democrats immediately countered that many of the GOP’s proposed spending cuts are “extreme” and would do more harm than good to average Americans and the overall economy.

The proposal, drafted by House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, calls for $100 billion to be slashed from President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 request. The cuts — about $58 billion compared with the final numbers in last year’s budget — are included in a spending bill to keep the federal government running when the current funding authority expires March 4.

Mr. Rogers said the legislation represents the largest single cut in discretionary spending in the nation’s history.

“These were hard decisions, and I know many people will not be happy with everything we’ve proposed in this package,” he said. “That’s understandable and not unexpected, but I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path.”

The GOP bill proposes cuts among a broad swath of agencies, including law enforcement, agriculture, transportation, energy, health, military and foreign aid programs. The plan includes completely axing several federally subsidized programs, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and funding for high-speed rail transit.

House Republicans said they will continue seek spending cuts throughout the year.

“The [bill] is just a start, and we have much more work to do to change our country’s fiscal path,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

The federal government faces a deficit this year of about $1.5 trillion, and an overall national debt of $14 trillion.

House Republicans campaigned in 2010 on a promise to cut $100 billion from Mr. Obama’s request for domestic agencies. But when GOP leaders in recent days suggested smaller initial cuts, many conservatives in their ranks — especially freshmen supported by the anti-spending tea party movement — pressed their party to stick with its initial pledge.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called the House GOP plan “a serious setback to economic recovery [that] would increase unemployment across the nation.”

Mr. Dicks chastised Mr. Rogers for focusing the bulk of the cuts on non-defense discretionary spending programs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Mr. Rogers‘ plan shows that Republicans are “out of sync” with the needs and wants of middle-class American.

“Republicans have taken a meat ax to the initiatives that invest in our economy and create jobs for the sake of appeasing their base,” the Nevada Democrat said.

While the spending bill likely will pass the Republican-dominated House, it would face stiff opposition in the Senate, where Democrats have a slight majority, as would have to overcome a potential White House veto as well.

If Congress can’t agree on a new spending bill by the March 4 deadline, the government’s cash flow would be cut off, with federal agencies potentially forced to close.

Senate Democratic leaders are already accusing House Republicans of playing a dangerous game of political chicken by threatening a government shutdown unless Democrats bow to their spending cut demands.

“Time is wasting while House Republicans argue among themselves about how extreme a proposal to send to the Senate,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “We are willing to meet Republicans in the middle on spending but they keep lurching to the right.”

Democrats see tying the notion of a possible government shutdown to Republicans as politically advantageous. When a funding dispute in 1995 between President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress led to a temporary shutdown of several federal agencies, the public largely blamed Republicans and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“We’re going to do everything we can to avoid a government shutdown,” said Mr. Reid.

But Mr. Cantor accused Democratic of trying to “stoke fear” without offering an alternative spending plan.

Mr. Reid and Mr. Schumer said they agree significant spending cuts are needed but declined to say how much. They mentioned a proposal by Mr. Obama to freeze current spending levels for five years as “a good place to start.”

Mr. Schumer said House Republicans are wrong to “pick a number first and figure out the cuts later.”

“When you try to make cuts this deep to a slice of the budget this narrow, it is almost impossible to do responsibly,” he said.

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