The White House is non-committal on whether President Bush will make an all-out effort to directly intercede with members of Congress to secure their votes on the bills needed to achieve $62 billion in spending cuts to offset the $62 billion spent this fall on hurricane relief.
As reported previously, Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), chairman of the 110-member House Republican Study Committee, does not believe the full cuts can be passed, along with a provision that would allow oil drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), unless Bush directly pushes for votes.
“I don’t believe we can achieve significant budget cuts and savings for the American people without the direct involvement of the President and the White House staff in the deficit-reduction legislation,” Pence told Human Events.
He said the White House had not been “fully engaged” when House Republicans last month eeked out a 217-to-215 victory on a bill to cut $50 billion in entitlement spending over five years. But that bill had been stripped of a provision favored by the President to allow drilling in ANWR.
It also fell $12 billion short of the cuts needed to fully offset the hurricane spending. The version of the bill that passed the Senate included an ANWR provision, but called for only $35 billion in entitlement cuts. House conservatives hope the ANWR provision will be included in the final version of the bill that emerges from a House-Senate conference committee and that the bill will also call for entitlement cuts closer to the House’s $50 billion than the Senate’s $35 billion. However, whatever the size of the final entitlement cuts, House conservatives intend to make up the difference needed to reach $62 billion by passing a 1% to 2% across-the-board cut in discretionary spending for fiscal 2006.
But as he told us, Pence does not believe the full cuts can be accomplished without presidential intervention.
As of yesterday, however, the White House had not been energized by the RSC chairman’s plea. In two White House briefings, I asked Press Secretary Scott McClellan whether Bush would make the same kind of vote-getting effort on Capitol Hill for the $62 billion in spending cuts as he had made when he secured passage of his Medicare prescription drug entitlement or his “No Child Left Behind” education program. Both times, McClellan’s answers were, at best, lukewarm.
At Tuesday’s morning briefing, I quoted Pence’s call for an all-out White House effort and asked whether the President would get actively involved in vote-seeking. “The President is involved,” said McClellan, who cited the fact that Bush has “met with congressional leaders” and recently hosted key House members at his residence. The President, McClellan said, stressed “the importance of continuing with deficit reduction” and thanked them all for their support of the deficit-reduction package.
McClellan added that in his sessions with lawmakers, Bush stressed “the importance of ANWR.” Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, he said, was also “involved” in trying to win passage of a final measure that included ANWR.
Swell, but Norton is not the President. And McClellan’s response was not exactly the call to arms that Pence and other conservatives have been awaiting.
On Wednesday, I again asked McCellan if the President would make a major effort to directly call members of Congress to lobby for their votes on the spending-cut proposals.
“We continue to urge Congress to move forward on the deficit-reduction package,” he said. “We have outlined significant savings. The President believes it’s important to push the envelope, to make sure that we meet the priorities of the American people, and that we also exercise responsible spending restraint. It is important to keeping our economy growing stronger. It’s also important to continue to move forward on making tax relief permanent.”
When we shared McClellan’s answers with Pence, he reiterated his call for presidential action.
“House conservatives want to see the White House and this leadership team put as much energy behind deficit reduction as they put behind entitlement and spending programs,” said Pence. “Millions of Americans who treasure this House majority expect as much as well.”