WASHINGTON – Republican leaders tried to push spending limits through the House on Thursday despite rebellions from GOP moderates who thought the curbs were too tight and from conservatives who wanted even stronger restraints.
With support from President Bush, Republican leaders asked the House to accept legal limits on the one-third of government spending controlled by Congress, and to balance any new benefit programs with cuts in existing benefits other than Social Security (search).
The same philosophical split that has prevented the Republican-controlled Congress from agreeing to a federal budget for next year was expected to doom the proposals to curb spending. The election-year divisions have erupted over how tightly spending and taxes should be constrained in an era of deficits and war.
The House rejected a Democratic effort to tilt the budget away from tax cuts toward debt reduction and homeland security, health and education spending. The measure, rejected 230-184, would have taken back a slice of the tax cuts (search) meant for taxpayers earning $1 million or more, redirecting that $19 billion to Democratic priorities.
House Republicans and Bush want to put the tight leash on spending - but not on future tax cuts.
"We do not believe fiscal discipline in Washington should come from tax increases," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "We believe fiscal discipline in Washington should come from spending cuts."
Some Republicans, however, said restrictions on tax cuts would force Congress to limit spending because lawmakers would have to make trade-offs.
"This is all about the politics of the possible, and we can't get that done this year," said Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn.
The White House said the bill "properly focuses its budget enforcement mechanisms on controlling spending and not on increasing taxes on America's workers and families."
Spending that exceeds the legal limits, set for two years, triggers automatic cuts across the board. The caps on the spending for agency operations that is controlled by Congress would be set at $818 billion next year and $839 billion the year after.
New benefit programs, passed without reductions in existing benefits, would trigger automatic cuts in benefits. Social Security and some Medicare (search) benefits would be protected.
Congressional appropriators, who decide how much government programs get to spend each year, opposed legal spending limits as giving congressional spending power to the White House.
"It goes beyond politics. It goes beyond the House and the Senate. It is the Constitution," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.
Some conservative Republicans readied amendments to further tighten the reins on government spending. The options included limiting increases in government spending to the rate of inflation and giving the president new authority to propose spending cuts.
Democrats said Republicans had the power to control spending and stop deepening deficits without any of the policies under consideration.
"Republicans control the House. Republicans control the Senate. Republicans control the White House. The only thing Republicans cannot control is spending," said Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas.
Debates over the spending controls and the Democratic budget adjustment saw Republicans painting Democrats as tax and spend liberals. Democrats accused Republicans of looking out only for the wealthy few.