GOPers Fear Huge Katrina Costs

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (search) of Maryland joined other House Republicans Wednesday in proposing $500 billion in spending cuts to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction efforts.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Republican Study Committee launched "Operation Offset," a detailed list of proposed budget savings options so that the reconstruction costs of Katrina, estimated at upwards of $200 billion, will not be passed onto future generations in the form of unmanageable debt.

"Representatives in the Congress have a credit card with the world's largest credit limit -- it's our voting card," said Bartlett. "It has no limit."

Bartlett brandished the card that allows him to cast his vote as a member of Congress, mimicking American Express advertising spokesmen.

"When we vote in the Congress for deficit spending, we know that we won't pay back this debt," he said. "We have to remember that it will be our kids and our grandkids who will have to pay back the debt."

The 20 House Republicans at the news conference highlighted programs that could be either eliminated or reduced. Among the savings options were delaying prescription drug benefits and increasing premiums under Medicare (search), increasing co-payments for Medicaid and limiting grants for first responders to large, at-risk communities.

"Our analysis suggests that there is more than enough room for cuts in the federal budget to pay for Katrina," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., study committee chairman, indicating a pile of papers representing the federal budget flagged with yellow Post-It notes.

The fiscal 2006 highway bill (search), which contained over 6,000 earmarks worth around $25 billion, was a favorite target. Members cited a $200 million "bridge to nowhere" serving 50 island residents in Alaska as expendable.

Earmarks that would affect the Washington, D.C., area include $75 million in Metro system funding, according to the study committee report, as well as funding for the Inter-county Connector, which would connect Interstates 270 and 95 and is hoped to provide major relief to the region's nationally-recognized traffic gridlock.

The space industry also could be affected by proposals to cancel NASA's (search) new Moon and Mars initiative and elimination of the Energy Star Program, a federal- and state-funded energy savings program.

NASA spokesman Dean Acosta said the proposed cuts would hurt rehabilitation efforts of the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast since two of the main space centers, the Lockheed Martin-operated Michoud Assembly facility in New Orleans and the John C. Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., suffered damage but are operable.

"NASA has been an integral part of the Gulf Coast region for many decades," said Acosta. "If you want to ensure jobs and continue recovery, NASA will play a key role."

Maryland Energy Administration Director Michael Richard, whose department supports the Energy Star Program, said that while he has a lot of respect for the RSC for their being the "voice of fiscal responsibility" he would want to have a discussion with them on their conclusions related to the program.

"I would hope," said Richard, "that Congress and the administration would renew their commitment that was expressed in the national energy strategy."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.