House GOP Divided on Hurricane Funding

Republicans in Congress have promised to cut spending in order to pay for the costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But proposed cuts to popular social services programs are giving pause to some GOP lawmakers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We reported last week that House Republican leaders were planning to cut billions of dollars in federal spending ostensively to pay for hurricane relief. That's still the case but they are not close to bringing a plan to the floor. The problem is trying to convince their own members to vote for the cuts. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

Listen to how two different Republicans describe the proposed spending cuts. First, conservative leader Mike Pence of Indiana.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): This is a bold plan, it is an aggressive plan, but it is a plan that reflects the conservative principles that minted this majority.

SEABROOK: And now Mark Kirk of Illinois, a leader of moderate Republicans.

Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): Moderates want to see the details and those details are emerging and we need to make sure that we have broad-base support.

SEABROOK: So far, that broad base of support just isn't there and here's why. Much of the 50-some billion dollars in new cuts would come from popular social services. About 15 billion would come from student loan programs, $8 billion from a program that enforces child support laws. Hundreds of millions would come out of foster care and still more would be cut from the agency that guarantees workers pensions and the CHIP program that gives health insurance to children in poor families. And in the end, conservatives say these cuts won't be enough and they'll likely enact an across-the-board cut of all federal programs except the military and homeland security. Conservatives say the new cuts are needed to make up for the cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast region after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi are calling it a cruel hoax that will have the worse impact on the very people already hit by those hurricanes.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The Congress of the United States is once again considering a budget that again is anti-consumer, anti-taxpayer, increases the deficit and they're trying to do this under the guise of helping the victims of Katrina.

SEABROOK: Meanwhile, the budget still includes about a hundred billion dollars in tax cuts for middle- and upper-income Americans and conservatives flatly refuse to reconsider any of those. When Kirk is asked what moderates think about holding off on some of those tax cuts, he answers...

Rep. KIRK: Right now I'd say there's not consensus on that. There is a consensus, though, that we need further spending restraint.

SEABROOK: Republican leaders say they'll keep trying in the next couple of weeks to come up with a deal that can pass the House. They're pushing to get it done sooner rather than later especially since next year is an election year and some Republicans cringe at the kinds of ads these cuts could inspire. Democrats, too, gave a glimpse at their theme for next year. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said America can do better.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): This is a failed policy. It is a policy that they now can't even get their own members to vote for.

SEABROOK: And there may be another reason Republicans are trying to act quickly on these spending cuts. The more they float around subject to scrutiny, the more sour some Republicans become on the whole package. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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