GOP Senators Balk At Bush Cuts

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President Bush's quest to rein in congressional spending is losing ground to Senate old-timers in his own party who understand the power of the purse and aren't reluctant to use it.

Tight spending caps that virtually every Republican endorsed this spring for domestic programs and congressional pork-barrel projects are now being evaded to the tune of almost $12 billion.

This is precisely what Mr. Bush, who has presided over deepening deficits, has said he does not want.

Instead of enforcing cuts of almost 1 percent on domestic programs whose budgets Congress passes each year — as these lawmakers promised when voting for the budget in April — the Senate Appropriations Committee has actually increased their budgets by about 2 percent.

Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is now leading the charge to rewrite the budget.

Last month, he orchestrated a shift of $8 billion from the defense and foreign aid budgets to the domestic side of the ledger. He also has blessed another $3.3 billion in budget trickery to free up funds for health research, medical training programs and heating subsidies for the poor, among myriad programs.

It's an open secret that the Pentagon cuts will probably be restored through emergency funding that's supposed to pay for the war in Iraq. That would be a de facto way to exceed the $843 billion spending cap for the 11 appropriations bills for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The budget gamesmanship was on full display Thursday as the Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill to fund the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

That bill contains $145.7 billion in spending for programs Congress funds each year. That's $3.8 billion more than requested by Mr. Bush and $3.2 billion more than passed by the House last month.

Most of the additional labor and health funding was "paid for" by pushing $3.3 billion in benefit payments for the very poor into a future budget year, a budget trick that was tried last year but ultimately dropped.

Such gimmicks "are, at best, false budgeting," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a conservative who voted to approve them anyway as a member of the go-along, get-along Appropriations panel.