Budget Chairman: Cut Deeper Than Bush

While he believes President Bush has “kept his word to control spending and has done all he feels is doable” to grapple with the cost of government, House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R.-Iowa) said the Bush budget unveiled last week “does not go far enough” in making necessary cuts in spending.

“Congress should go faster and further and be bolder” than what the President has called for in slashing government spending, Nussle told HUMAN EVENTS. The President has proposed a $2.4-trillion budget, with an estimated $521-billion deficit. Over all, it would hold discretionary spending growth to 3.5%, while limiting it to only 0.5% outside the areas of Defense and Homeland Security.

“During times of deficit,” said Nussle, “I would put everything on the table for cuts or elimination, with the sole exceptions being Defense and Homeland Security.” He would exclude those two areas now, he said, “only because of the present situation.”

“Second, I would try to find waste and abuse in all of the areas of domestic spending,” he said. He also said he “certainly” would encourage Congress to enact a proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) and Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R.-Kan.) to establish a special panel along the lines of the former military base-closing commission to recommend outmoded or wasteful government programs that should be abolished. “It’s lamentable that we need to create an entity or arbitrary thing to do what Congress should have been doing in its oversight process,” said Nussle. “But [the Brownback-Tiahrt proposal] has to be done and it’s something I certainly would support.”

Nussle said he would call a two-hour, members-only session of his committee next week to discuss where to make further cuts in domestic spending and how deep they should be. While praising Bush’s budget as “a great starting point,” Nussle repeated his desire to “go further” in cutting spending. “I have a negative reaction to a lot of things [in the budget], like the [15%] increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the call for going to Mars.”

Asked if he would try to roll back funding, or even defund, the NEA or the proposed Mars mission, Nussle said, “As I said, all things can and should be on the table. We have got to ask, ‘Can we afford this now or can it wait?’ I’m going to listen to my colleagues about all of these things because, to do anything, we have to come up with 218 votes.”

Nussle said he plans to look at freezing the budget across the board at Fiscal Year 2004 spending levels. “This is something I brought up to [Office of Management and Budget head] Josh Bolten in the meetings we had leading up to the budget proposal last week,” he said, “and it is something I intend to pursue in the upcoming meetings with my colleagues.”

He says he plans to pay particular attention to proposals from the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group of conservative House members gearing up to oppose many of the President’s spending proposals. Noting there are several RSC members on his committee, Nussle said he had just met with RSC Chairman Sue Myrick (R.-N.C.) and their “alternative budget will certainly be taken into consideration.”