Senate Approves $35 Billion in Spending Cuts
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The Senate has voted to cut federal spending over the next five years by about $35 billion. The savings come from cuts to such programs as Medicare and Medicaid, student loans and farm subsidies. The House is expected to take up its version next week, calling for even deeper cuts. Conservatives are happy that Republican leaders are reducing government spending. Moderate Republicans, especially those facing tough re-election campaigns, are worried. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
For conservatives, the idea of cutting government programs is a welcome return to core GOP values in Congress, where spending has suddenly risen despite Republican control of both chambers and the White House. It's also a good way to regain some momentum after the bad news of indictments, investigations and failed nominations. New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu is an enthusiastic supporter of the Republican initiative.
Senator JOHN SUNUNU (Republican, New Hampshire): Anytime we can bring a bill to the floor that controls the growth in government spending, it's something that a vast majority of Republicans can rally around and can support. That's always desirable. We would always prefer to have issues moving forward on the floor of the Senate, on the floor of the House, that tend to unite the party.
NAYLOR: The Senate budget measure approved yesterday increases spending on some items, including extending Medicaid benefits to low-income victims of Hurricane Katrina. Democrats argued the overall savings in the budget were fiction because Republicans also plan to cut taxes by $70 billion. Kent Conrad is the senior Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.
Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): We are headed for a train wreck. It's just as clear as it can possibly be. And what have our colleagues done? Well, they've come out with this very, I'd say, misleading title on a book saying it's a deficit reduction act. When you read all of the chapters of the book, it's not a deficit reduction proposal. It increases the deficit and explodes the debt.
NAYLOR: Republican Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire responded to Conrad by standing in front of a blank piece of poster board.
Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): There's the Democratic proposal on the budget. They have no budget. They haven't proposed a budget. Even when they were in the majority, they didn't propose a budget, or at least they didn't bring one to the floor. They have no proposal at all to reduce the deficit, to reduce the debt.
NAYLOR: The budget measure approved in the Senate also calls for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Opponents tried but failed to strike ANWR from the budget. The Senate did agree to forbid any oil produced at ANWR from export. The ANWR provision and many others are giving moderate Republicans heartburn. Prodded by restive conservatives, the House Budget Committee yesterday approved a larger package of cuts totaling some $54 billion. The House measure would knock some 300,000 people off food stamps and other nutrition assistance programs and cut foster care support. Mike Castle, a moderate Republican congressman from Delaware, says House leaders are putting members in the awkward position of voting for spending reductions which the Senate is unlikely to approve.
Representative MIKE CASTLE (Republican, Delaware): House members are going to be called on to vote for cuts that are probably never going to take place. Well, that is something that can be used against one politically and not something that we like to see happen.
NAYLOR: Castle also cringes at the juxtaposition of Congress voting for cuts in programs for the poor and then taking up a $70 billion tax cut measure. Other Republicans, especially those facing what could be difficult re-election campaigns next year, are worried about the size of the reductions called for in the GOP plan. Those concerns mean House leaders have their work cut out for them, as they attempt to round up votes for the budget cuts next week.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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