- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday announced deep federal spending cuts — including the elimination of some established programs — in a preliminary budget plan, while top Republican House leaders met with President Obama to discuss ways to rein in spending and shrink the national debt.

Chairman Harold Rogers‘ plan calls for $35 billion in spending cuts compared with last year’s budget. The cuts would affect a broad scope of agencies, including law enforcement, transportation, energy, health and foreign aid programs.

“Never before has Congress undertaken a task of this magnitude,” the Kentucky Republican said. “While making these cuts is hard, we have a unique opportunity to right our fiscal ship and begin to reduce our massive deficits and debt.”

Mr. Rogers‘ plan would ax several federally subsidized programs, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and funding for high-speed rail transit.

The chairman has targeted about 70 spending cuts, with more to be announced when the full budget plan is unveiled in the coming days. The bill would fund federal government operations after the temporary budget expires March 4.

The spending cuts include: $2 billion for job training programs, $1.3 billion for community health centers, $1 billion to the National Institutes of Health, $544 million in International Food Aid grants, $336 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $224 million to Amtrak, $51 million to the National Park Service, and $6 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Make no mistake: These cuts are not low-hanging fruit,” Mr. Rogers said. “These cuts are real and will impact every district across the country — including my own.”

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat, said his party is committed to working with Republicans to lower the national debt and to “tackle waste, fraud and abuse across the federal budget.” But the Washington state lawmaker added he has serious concerns about the proposed GOP budget cuts.

“What does this mean for the average American? Are we still putting job growth as our No. 1 priority?” he said. “We must not embrace a one-dimensional plan that makes for a good press release at the expense of vital investments in the long-term health of the nation.”

Meanwhile Wednesday, the top three House Republicans appeared upbeat as they left a private lunch with President Obama, saying they had reached “common ground” on at least some issues, a sentiment echoed by the administration.

“It was a very good lunch, and we’re able to find enough common ground, I think, to show the American people that we’re willing to work on their behalf and willing to do it together,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California also attended the White House lunch.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged a need to reach out more to Republicans after Democrats sustained heavy losses in the November congressional elections that resulted in a GOP takeover of the House.

Both sides said budget cuts and trade and foreign policy issues were discussed, but they declined to offer specifics.

“We did have a fairly robust conversation about the need for all of us to work together to send a signal that we’re serious about cutting spending. We had agreement on that,” Mr. Cantor said.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the meeting “constructive” and said there was “broad agreement that we have to change the way Washington works, particularly as it relates to spending.”

“They agreed on cutting spending and reducing our deficit, that we should have a broad discussion about — with the American people — the size and the scope of the problem that we face in getting our fiscal house in order,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters.

The Republicans and Mr. Gibbs stopped short of saying the two sides reached any significant agreements, but he added the president expects to have more meetings with GOP congressional leaders.

“This is going to be a long discussion on the steps that we need to take to reduce our deficit,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I don’t think that people looked at this as a negotiating session.”

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