Ideas for Cutting Federal Spending Languish as Deficit Rises

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Ideas for Cutting Federal Spending Languish as Deficit Rises
By Christine Hall Staff Writer
August 28, 2003

(Editor's Note: Clarifies 13th graph to stipulate that Social Security is exempted from House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle's proposed cuts in waste, fraud and abuse.)

( - The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2004 will likely reach a record $480 billion - on top of a $400 billion projected deficit for the current fiscal year. More deficits are projected over the next decade.

But few if any members of Congress have come forward with specific, politically painful spending cuts to bring the budget back in balance.

"On one hand, I can count the [number] of members who are serious about [budget cuts] and the same in the Senate," lamented David Williams of Citizens Against Government Waste. "Whether they're Democrats or Republicans, that's their main concern...getting their little slice of the pork pie and making sure they're, quote, taken care of."

A Tuesday missive from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) blasted the Bush administration for "push[ing] still more tax breaks" and failing to "budget adequately for the costs of the war on terrorism, homeland security, education and other pressing needs." But Daschle didn't mention trimming the budget.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has referred to a "spending-driven deficit," along with a bad economy, and urged Congress to stick to the original spending guidelines in the budget. He reserved a lion's share of the blame for his Democratic colleagues: "They have proposals for nearly $1 trillion in new government spending."

But DeLay didn't specify any spending cuts.

Ranking Ways and Means Democrat Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), however, did imply that some defense spending could be axed ("the Republicans...want more and more tax cuts and spending on the military"), albeit in favor of "spending on education, vets' benefits, housing and aid to cities."

Among the current crop of presidential aspirants, newly minted Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean was reported to have stumped in 1995 for cutting Social Security, moving the retirement age to 70 years old and cutting Medicare and veterans' pensions. But the former Vermont governor has since said he doesn't recall making that statement.

Some members of Congress, however, have put forward ideas on how to bring about spending cuts.

Ranking House Budget Committee Democrat John Spratt (S.C.) on Tuesday suggested a closed-door, bipartisan, budget-balancing pow-wow between House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over budgeting and spending. Budget cuts and tax cut elimination would be on the table if Spratt had his way.

That idea appeals to the budget hawk Concord Coalition, which favors elimination of the Bush tax cuts coupled with unspecified spending cuts. "Can we sit down and pass a package of cuts in spending from basically every area of the budget that puts us on a sustainable path?" pleaded Harry Zeeve of the Concord Coalition.

However, "that's not easy," Zeeve conceded. "That's a very tall order. But that's the kind of discussion that really needs to take place."

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is looking to cut wasteful spending in so-called mandatory spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid but not Social Security.

The late Democratic Sen. "Paul Tsongas always said that the reason you have to look at Social Security and Medicare is the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks," Zeeve explained. "That's where the money is."

Nussle has tasked all the House committee chairs to come up with 1 percent across-the-board cuts in mandatory programs in order to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Such cuts could be made by Congress through budget cuts or by revised agency rules and procedures.

Committee chairs are scheduled to report to Nussle in mid-September.

A few other lawmakers also talk about spending cuts. Williams points to Reps. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and controversial Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom Williams gives the highest marks.

"As much as Republicans hold their nose when McCain talks, he is the only senator on a consistent basis who goes to the floor of the Senate and tries to eliminate pork barrel spending," said Williams. "No one else has that track record."

CAGW has suggested that President Bush or Congress create a special commission to come up with a take-it-or-leave-it package of budget cuts.

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