Republicans Search For Disaster Relief Funds
GOP wants to avoid a repeat of '97 disaster money showdown
By Ann Curley/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 12) -- Hoping to avoid a conflict similar to their 1997 battle with President Bill Clinton over money for disaster relief, House Republicans Thursday called for cutting domestic spending programs to pay for the emergency funding requested by the president, without throwing the budget out of balance.
Clinton has requested $2.5 billion to pay for Bosnian and Persian Gulf troops, as well as disaster relief. Most House members are in favor of giving the relief, but many Republicans are pushing for maintaining a balanced budget by shifting the money from domestic programs.
"Any time we are unable or unwilling to offset any of these bills that are making their way through the House floor, any time we are unable to offset that means we are spending the surplus, we are breaking the budget agreement," said House Budget Chairman John Kasich. Kasich urged his colleagues to set spending priorities and not permit the government to grow any larger.
Kasich proposed finding $1 billion worth of cuts in the current
defense budget, including programs that are "unobligated balances,
environmental programs in the Pentagon that can be delayed, defense stockpile fund that carries huge cash balances in it." Kasich said that would not affect national military readiness.
Kasich proposed finding the other $1.5 billion by making across-the-board cuts in other discretionary programs, saying it
would only entail taking "a half a penny out of every dollar that we spend" in non-defense discretionary funds.
He conceded, though, that if conservative Republicans are adamant about not touching defense funds at all, it will require taking one
full penny per dollar out of the non-defense discretionary funds.
Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) proposed that legislators set up a "rainy day fund" to actually budget for disasters, rather than go through the current process of having the president have to request the funds.
"You're going to have emergencies," said Castle, the former Delaware governor. "It's the very nature of what happens in the United States in the course of the year, and it's absolutely time, if we're going to balance the budget, to do that as well."
Last summer, Republicans suffered a public relations setback when they sent Clinton a disaster-relief bill that also contained additional language about future government shutdowns and use of sampling methods for the 2000 census. Clinton vetoed it because of those add-ons, and after the public blamed Republicans for denying aid to the flood-ravaged Midwest, GOP lawmakers were forced to send Clinton an unencumbered bill.