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RSC Keeps Up Drumbeat on Spending

Under the wary eye of the GOP leadership, members of the Republican Study Committee on Wednesday unveiled an array of proposed budget cuts to pay for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hoping to capitalize on a period of growing concern about the federal deficit, lawmakers from the conservative House group held a heavily attended press conference to tout a variety of potential cuts, nearly all of which have been repeatedly debated — and rejected — in the past. But while they acknowledged that most of their ideas were not new, the assembled lawmakers expressed hope that the budget crunch created by Katrina would prompt Congress to make the difficult cuts it has avoided in the past.

“Now is the time for us to begin to make the tough choices,” said RSC Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), who emphasized that the proposal was only “a list of suggested cuts, not an exclusive list” and that “not every member of the [RSC] will agree with every cut.”

While a parade of Republican lawmakers trooped to the microphones to extol the virtues of their specific ideas — some of them punctuated by an enthusiastic volunteer yelling “Right on!” — none of the speakers echoed their leaders’ statements of recent days lauding the GOP’s record of fiscal discipline since the party came to power in 1995.

The only praise of the GOP leadership came from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who said, “I’m proud to be part of a party that has a Speaker and a Majority Leader who will listen to us … and I appreciate that very much.”

The press conference came one day after a meeting in which Republican leaders and some committee chairmen warned Pence and other members of the RSC not to make their effort into a vehicle for lambasting the party as a whole or belittling its record.

To reiterate that message, a group of leadership press secretaries summoned a handful of RSC press secretaries to Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill) office Wednesday afternoon.

According to a leadership aide, the RSC staffers were told: “It’s fine to have your list of offsets … but please give the credit [for a strong economy and lower taxes] where the credit is due, and that’s with the Republican majority.”

An RSC aide said the group was aware of the leadership’s concerns, but that its members felt the need to get out ahead of the leadership on the offsets issue because, until they did, “there hadn’t been any meetings called on this. They weren’t listening until we started talking about this.”

As an indication that the group’s message is gathering momentum, a group of five Senate Republicans — Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), John Sununu (N.H.) and John Ensign (Nev.) — plan to have a press conference today to announce a similar list of suggested budget cuts.

At the packed, carnival-like press conference on the Cannon Terrace, more than a dozen Members stood before the cameras as several volunteers behind them held up signs with slogans such as “Less Pork, More Katrina Relief” and “Rescue Taxpayers From a Flood … of Red Ink.”

Many of the volunteers wore T-shirts bearing the logo of FreedomWorks, the conservative organization that is co-chaired by ex-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas). Some signs also advertised the Web site of the National Taxpayers Union.

The grab-bag of proposals included everything from reducing foreign aid and increasing Medicare premiums to eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Amtrak. The list also included getting rid of matching funds for presidential campaigns and political conventions as well as freezing lawmakers’ pay, an idea that has been consistently defeated on the House floor in the past several years.

The RSC also continued to tout its two most heavily publicized proposals: delaying the implementation of the Medicare bill for a year and redirecting earmarks from the highway bill toward Katrina relief.

On the Medicare idea, which already has been roundly dismissed by both the leadership and the White House, Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said that delaying the bill would not adversely affect the elderly.

“Our seniors have gone 220 years without a prescription drug benefit,” Flake said. “I don’t think they would begrudge us one more year.”

As for the highway bill, Pence echoed the pledges of a handful of other Members by saying he believed the people of his district in Indiana would be willing to forgo their transportation earmarks to help with Katrina.

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