Spending Cuts Must Pay for Relief

When I consider Hurricane Katrina and its tragic aftermath, the ancient parable comes to mind:  “And the rains descended, and the flood came, and the winds blew and beat against the house and it fell with a great crash.”

For most American families, when a tree falls on your house, first you tend to the wounded, you start the clean up, and then you figure out how you are going to pay for it.

In recent days, Congress has funded the relief and recovery from Hurricane Katrina by speeding more than $60 billion to FEMA and other agencies involved in the affected areas.  And well we should.

But as we tend to the wounded, as we begin to rebuild, let us also do what every other American family would do in like circumstances and expects this Congress to do:  Let’s figure out how we are going to pay for it.

Wasteful and Bloated

This week, the Republican Study Committee launched “Operation Offset,” an effort to offer a menu of options in the budget to make room for the money we have spent and will spend on Katrina.  We have submitted the following suggested list as a starting line for tightening the federal budget to save more than $500 billion over 10 years:

• Delay the Medicare prescription drug program implementation for one year.  Savings: $31 billion in one year.

• Repeal highway earmarks in the recent transportation authorization bill.  Savings: $25 billion over 10 years.

• Eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, including federal funding for Democratic and Republican conventions.  Savings: $550 million over 10 years (of which $53.2 million over 10 years is for the conventions).

• Reduce federal subsidies for Amtrak routes that do not yield profits.  Savings: $2.5 billion over 10 years.

• Drop wealthy communities from Community Development Block Grant eligibility.  Savings: $9.1 billion over 10 years.

• Eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Savings: $5.6 billion over 10 years.

• Restrict first-responder grants to large, at-risk communities.  Savings: $6.8 billion over 10 years.

• Charge federal employees for parking.  Savings: $1.5 billion over 10 years.

Again, this list is only the beginning.  The federal budget is packed with wasteful and bloated programs that could supply more than enough taxpayer dollars to cover the costs of federal Katrina relief efforts.

The White House and Congressional Budget Office together have dedicated more than 500 pages in documents on federal budget savings for fiscal 2006 alone.  The savings are there, but sacrifices must be made.

Hurricane Katrina breaks my heart, but we cannot let her break the bank.  House conservatives believe we must act compassionately toward each and every victim of this horrendous disaster.  But letting politicians open and empty Americans’ wallets, borrow against our grandchildren’s future, and call it “compassion,” is not what House conservatives have in mind.

Just as millions of average Americans have been writing checks to relief efforts and sacrificing elsewhere, Congress must make the hard choices necessary to ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.