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GOP Still Seeking Spending Cuts

Seeking to smooth over intraparty tensions that flared last week, a pair of GOP leaders met Tuesday with several top Republican Study Committee members in hopes of moving toward agreement on how to pay for the costs of Hurricane Katrina.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) invited RSC Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and a handful of other group leaders to the meeting to discuss the proposals the RSC made at a heavily publicized press conference last Wednesday.

While there were bad feelings all around after that event and two other contentious meetings last week, following Tuesday’s gathering both sides spoke positively of the progress that was made even though there was no firm agreement on any course of action.

“I thought it was a very productive meeting,” Cantor said. “Last week I think there might have been some perceived difference between what the RSC is trying to achieve and what the leadership is trying to achieve. … I don’t see any difference.”

The RSC side was similarly conciliatory, though cautiously so.

“Congressman Pence came away encouraged. He believes it’s a good first step toward addressing the problem,” said Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd, though he added that the RSC has “learned not to count our chickens before they’re hatched.”

At the press event last week, the RSC presented what Pence described as a “menu” of options for finding Katrina offsets. That list included dozens of proposals totaling several hundred billion dollars, many of which were not endorsed by every RSC member.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on a narrower list of ideas, according to participants, including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare reform and the possibility of an across-the-board cut in non-defense, non-homeland security-related discretionary spending.

Asked about the prospects for such an across-the-board cut, Cantor said, “I certainly would be very much in favor of that. Obviously the appropriators would be involved in that discussion.”

As they have repeatedly in recent weeks, Republican leaders emphasized that the reconciliation process scheduled to begin next month will provide the perfect opportunity to pare spending in the wake of Katrina.

Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor said much of Tuesday’s meeting involved “figuring how to do as much as possible during reconciliation,” and she reiterated that the current $35 billion goal for reconciliation savings is “a floor, not a ceiling.”