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'Trim the fat' to pay for Katrina

Republic senators say party failing to control spending



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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Hurricane Katrina
Disaster Relief

WASHINGTON D.C. (CNN) -- As the Unites States faces the monumental expense of rebuilding the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, two prominent Republican senators took aim at members of their own party, saying the federal government could find the money if it would drop some of its controversial spending.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said the Republican Party is "failing when it comes to controlling spending."

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said there is "a lot of fat" in the $2.4 trillion budget pushed by President Bush and passed by the Republican Congress.

Their remarks came as former President Clinton called on fellow Democrats to make Bush's refusal to raise taxes an election issue.

Bush said Friday that the costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast will be paid by cutting "unnecessary spending."

But House Speaker Tom DeLay said last week that, since Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994, they have already gotten rid of extraneous spending.

"After 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good," DeLay told reporters.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is: 'Sure, bring me the offsets, I will be glad to do it,' but no one has been able to come up with any yet."

Graham and Kyl joined fellow fiscal conservatives in taking DeLay up on that challenge.

"I've been a Republican for 11 years, and we're failing when it comes to controlling spending," Graham told Fox News Sunday.

"There's so much opportunity here to go back into the budget and extract some savings to help pay for this hurricane relief that I look at it as an opportunity for the Congress to get back to its roots of being fiscally sound and conservative. Maybe something good can come from this hurricane."

Graham suggested lawmakers take a look at the recently passed transportation and energy bill, widely criticized for containing "pork" projects.

He also expressed support for the possibility of delaying the implementation of a Medicare prescription drug benefit -- a project opposed by many Democrats and some Republican fiscal conservatives, including Graham.

"There are many ways to save money. You could have an across-the-board cut, non-defense across-the-board cut. You could delay the implementation of the prescription drug bill," he said.

Kyl, on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," also pointed to the transportation bill, which he voted against.

"If we would simply take about a fourth of that and all of the various pork projects that were in the highway bill, and redirect some of that to the Gulf region, we would have billions of dollars to help rebuild that area and, by the way, not waste money that would otherwise be spent on a lot of things that don't have much to do with rebuilding highways and bridges," he said.

"There are a lot of areas of government where we're spending far too much money."

No tax hike

But he opposed the idea of raising taxes. "If you raise taxes, particularly in marginal income tax rates, for example, capital gains and things of that sort, you can slow down the economy."

Former President Clinton, on ABC's "This Week," said about half the tax cuts since 2001 have gone to the top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans, and have added to the U.S. budget deficit.

The United States faces a record deficit, and Bush's 2006 budget includes a budget deficit of more than $300 billion.

Last Thursday, Bush announced an ambitious rebuilding plan, telling the nation: "Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems."

His plan includes incentives for building, education initiatives, compensation for religious institutions that have provided support and numerous other steps that will cost billions.

The president and White House advisers have refused to estimate costs, but analysts have said they could easily total $200 billion.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Dela., told CNN's "Late Edition" that the Bush administration had presented the current budget as one that dropped unnecessary spending.

"Where is he going to find roughly half a trillion dollars over the next several years for Iraq and for Katrina? I think we're not level with the American people," he said.

"The idea that we're either going to share the cost with everyone, including the wealthiest among us, by forgoing the tax cuts for the wealthiest, or we're going to put all the burden on the middle class -- I mean, these are basic, fundamental decisions we're going to have to make here."

Kyl said the war in Iraq and reconstruction of the Gulf are both "necessities."

Biden seemed to concur.

"We have two national emergencies: one relates to our interest in Iraq and the other in the Gulf, and I don't think you can take from one to deal with the other," he said.

"We don't have to raise new taxes, but we don't have to go forward with further tax cuts for the wealthy," he added.

"There's a $70 billion tax cut in this particular budget. Permanently eliminating the estate tax cut is a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Maybe we have to forgo those for the time being."

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of respondents said they would support reducing Iraq war expenditures for Katrina. But Bush said Friday Bush is confident the United states "can handle it" and other priorities.

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