WASHINGTON – Some fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill say they are worried that President Bush, who has never vetoed a spending bill, will find it hard to hold back a tide of congressional largesse in the wake of the massive hurricanes that have devastated the Gulf Coast.
No one knows how much it will cost to rebuild or how many years it will take. Lawmakers are debating from where the cuts would come if Congress is forced to tighten its belt.
Some lawmakers want to delay the January start of the president's Medicare prescription drug benefit for one year, saving $30 billion. More than 3 million people have already signed up for the program.
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"Congress can address the needs of seniors who are near the poverty level and who are struggling with the cost of prescription drugs while still making the tough fiscal choices necessary to pay for Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath," Rep. Mike Pence (search), R-Ind., said.
Another proposed solution involves shifting $25 billion dollars from special projects in the highway bill to reconstruction of damaged roads and bridges throughout the Gulf region. Many political watchers decry the projects as pork barrel spending,
"People should write to their representatives and senators and say, ... 'Look, we know there are things in there for our state. We're willing to defer them for two or three years in order to be able to pay for this hurricane relief," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said.
Canceling NASA's (search) planned return to the moon and to Mars could save $44 billion over 10 years.
"When you have critical unexpected needs, you need to step back and say, 'What are our true priorities?'" Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., said.
Another idea has been to dump federal support for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. A 10-year savings would equal $4.8 billion. Washington could also save $1.3 billion over 10 years if it scrapped anti-drug TV commercials.
"If you're willing not to set priorities and you want to be everything to everybody, I don't have much hope," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
Some of the less public expenses like free parking for federal workers, including members of Congress, will cost taxpayers $1.5 billion over 10 years.
"We are now at a point where the American people expect us to make sacrifices," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
Canceling next year's cost of living pay raise for the House and Senate would save $24 million over 10 years.
"Average Americans in all 50 states are reaching into their pocketbooks and investing in relief and recovery efforts," Pence said. "The power and symbol of members of Congress doing that, regardless of the size of the contribution, could be very important."
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