January 21, 2011 in Nation/World

Spending cut fight looms

House Republicans differ on amount
Andrew Taylor Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – House conservatives vowed Thursday to slash domestic programs well beyond the already steep spending cuts promised by GOP leaders in the midterm election campaign that put Republicans in control of the chamber.

A proposal unveiled by the Republican Study Committee, whose conservative members make up about three-fourths of the House GOP conference, called for bringing domestic agency budgets down to the 2006 levels in place when Republicans last controlled Congress. That’s about a $175 billion cut from current levels and roughly $90 billion more than the cuts promised by Republicans last fall.

Behind the scenes, conservatives are pressuring GOP leaders to deliver on a promise to immediately pass legislation cutting Cabinet budgets by $100 billion this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and is already one-third over.

“Despite the added challenge of being four months into the current fiscal year, we still must keep our $100 billion pledge to the American people,” the committee said in a draft leader to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The letter posed a potential headache for Boehner, foreshadowing a possible split between tea party-backed freshmen lawmakers and more experienced lawmakers willing to settle for fewer, more easily achievable cuts.

The study committee proposed eliminating several programs outright, including the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal help to people who can’t afford a lawyer; Amtrak subsidies; community development grants popular with local officials, and economic aid to Egypt. It advocated a five-year pay freeze for federal workers, and cutting the federal work force by 15 percent through attrition.

“The pledge, the $100 billion, is simply a start,” said freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. “We want more. We will be looking for ways to cut the deficit and the debt more than is in the pledge.”

Senior Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, were working on the already difficult task of fulfilling the party’s original promise to take most domestic agencies other than the Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs departments down to their 2008 spending levels. That would require cutting their operating budgets an average 18 percent, or about $84 billion, from last year’s budget.

While conservatives are pressing for deeper cuts, appropriators are looking to protect the budgets for NASA, the FBI and the Indian Health Service.

“I suspect what they’re going to do is give us a number to hit – that we have to reduce our budget by X number of dollars,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who will chair the panel responsible for the Interior Department, Indian health care and the Environmental Protection Agency. “And then some areas will see larger cuts, and some areas we’ll be able to protect to some degree.”

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