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House Cardinals Also Cautious About Cuts

House Appropriations cardinals offered a tepid response to the austere spending plan unveiled by GOP leadership last week, suggesting the proposed budget cuts are too wide-ranging.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee questioned the four-point plan outlined in a Thursday memorandum issued to Republican lawmakers, which calls for broad cuts in discretionary spending, as well as for committee chairman to find $50 billion in mandatory spending cuts through reconciliation, an increase from the $35 billion figure now included in the budget.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, said while he will back an across-the-board decrease in discretionary spending — Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) has put that figure at 2 percent — he wants to ensure that the reductions won’t impact defense spending.

“It’s not the best way to do it, but I would be supportive of it,” said Young, former chairman of the full Appropriations panel.

He added: “At a time while we’re at war … I’m not going to support a cut in the defense budget.”

Similarly, Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, said he expects a “very difficult” vote on any budget amendment with extensive reductions.

“It’s a very difficult vote, especially if we do an across the board cut and it hurts veterans,” Walsh said.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary and District of Columbia, said he believes “everything” should be considered for budget reductions.

“We can’t balance the budget on 17 percent of the total budget, which is what it would be if we took out defense and Homeland Security,” Knollenberg said.

But the Michigan lawmakers added that a “haircut” approach would be detrimental to many programs, and that House Members need to spend more time discussing and vetting any spending cuts.

“There are ways to do it to produce a better outcome,” Knollenberg said.

Despite their criticism, House lawmakers did praise some aspects of Thursday’s proposal.

Young noted that he is supportive of a portion of the proposal that calls for the elimination of some government programs, specifically deauthorizing those programs that House lawmakers “zeroed out” during the funding process.

“In reconciliation, targeting those programs is very acceptable,” Young said.

Additionally, the leadership proposal calls for a package of rescissions — which Nussle said which come from “low-priority” budget items — to offset reconstruction costs in areas damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, along with offsets for new mandatory spending included in entitlement reform need to address the clean-up efforts.

“The Appropriations Committee is working to find offsets in programs that would not adversely affect the overall [relief] effort,” Young added.

During Thursday’s Budget Committee hearing, some Democratic lawmakers had questioned the proposed budget cuts, asserting they would adversely affect victims in the Gulf Coast area damaged by the recent Category 5 storm.

“The cuts we’ll be making are to the very programs needed by the victims,” Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) asserted.

Even Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who had earlier bristled after the Republican Study Committee unveiled their list of proposed offsets at a press conference last month, said he would be willing to accept a “haircut,” adding: “I’m much more concerned with keeping us on regular order.”

Lewis would not comment specifically on whether Members would be able to reduced mandatory spending by $50 billion during the reconciliation process, but said: “I tend to be very positive about things we do around here rather than negative.”

Still, Appropriations ranking member Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), criticized the Republican plan Friday as misguided.

“I’ve said from the beginning, how we’re going to pay for Katrina is not the right question,” Obey said Friday. “The question is how are we going to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy that are 10 times as large as the cost for Katrina?”