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GOP leaders offer $26b more in spending cuts

Goal is to placate those who found initial plan timid

By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / February 11, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Piling cuts on top of cuts, House Republican leaders outlined an additional $26 billion in spending reductions yesterday in hopes of placating conservatives who rejected an initial draft as too timid.

Representative Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican in charge of drafting the legislation, said he had proposed “deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government.’’

No details were immediately available, but the proposal would cut current spending in hundreds of federal programs by about $60 billion, resulting in levels in effect in 2008.

By Republican reckoning, the new measure would reduce spending by $100 billion below President Obama’s request for the current fiscal year, a number they had promised to meet in the “Pledge to America,’’ their manifesto in the 2010 campaign. The actual cuts from current rates are less, because the $100 billion promise assumes Obama budget increases that were never enacted.

Rogers had warned on Wednesday that such cuts could lead to layoffs of FBI agents and harm to the nation’s air traffic control system. He also warned about cuts to health research, special education, and Pell grants for low-income college students.

Yesterday’s announcement caps a long struggle among Republicans over what they meant exactly when promising to cut $100 billion last year. At the center of the debate has been the fact that the budget year began Oct. 1 and the government has been spending money at last year’s levels since then. A stopgap government funding bill expires March 4.

That makes it much harder to keep the promise since it squeezes a year’s worth of cuts into seven months. Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, had earlier promised to spread the cuts over a calendar year, with the upcoming spending bill making a significant down payment in advance of another round of cuts as Congress hashes out next year’s appropriations bills.

“We will meet our pledge to America,’’ Boehner said, adding that the upcoming legislation will “send a signal that we’re serious about cutting spending here in Washington.’’

But rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom have little hands-on knowledge of the budget and the impact the cuts will have on programs popular with their constituents, insisted on keeping the $100 billion promise, forcing Boehner and the appropriations panel to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s important to do what we said we were going to do,’’ said Arizona Representative Jeff Flake.

Boehner met with GOP freshmen yesterday to sell the plan, which Republicans expect to unveil this afternoon.

The new plan will build upon a partial roster of cuts released Wednesday that targeted school aid and the Environmental Protection Agency and would kill off a high-speed rail program that Obama wants to significantly expand.

Republicans also promise to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, family planning services, and AmeriCorps, which was championed by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.

The new promise means closer scrutiny of the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and possibly even veterans’ accounts that Republicans had hoped to hold harmless. And it means the FBI won’t get the 4 percent increase Republicans had hoped to give it, and health research might be cut instead of being frozen at $31 billion.

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