Conservative U.S. Republicans seek deeper spending cuts

Wed Mar 7, 2012 10:51pm EST

* Conservatives push $931 bln cap on discretionary spending

* Republican aides say cuts would cost spending bill support

* U.S. government shutdown risk could resurface

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - Conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are not satisfied with spending caps mandated by last year's debt limit deal and are seeking deeper cuts - even if this raises the risk of another government shutdown fight.

Republican aides said on Wednesday some members of the House Budget Committee are pressing for a budget resolution that holds discretionary spending at least $97 billion below the $1.047 trillion cap set by the Budget Control Act for fiscal 2013.

Members of the Republican Study Committee, a staunchly conservative wing of the party that includes many lawmakers backed by the Tea Party movement, are advocating $931 billion in discretionary spending, although some have suggested a compromise figure of $950 billion.

The effort, expected to be discussed with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Thursday, shows Republicans' resolve to demonstrate fiscal restraint during an election year in which rising U.S. debt is a prime concern in voter polls after the economy and job creation.

Among its more ardent advocates is Representative Scott Garrett, the second-ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, who directs budget policy for the Republican Study Committee.

"Congressman Garrett's view is that the United States is broke and if this rush towards bankruptcy is going to be stopped, then spending needs to be cut more deeply," said Ben Veghte, a spokesman for the New Jersey Republican.

Garrett is working with Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to draft a Republican budget proposal in the coming weeks.

Last year, Republicans in the House passed a plan that cut $6.2 trillion over 10 years, largely with deep and controversial cuts to the Medicare healthcare program for older Americans. The non-binding measure died in the Democratic-controlled Senate but caused deep worries among seniors about losing their benefits.

This year, a similar approach to the popular but increasingly expensive Medicare program may be fraught with deeper political consequences, as all 435 House seats are up for re-election in November. It may be less controversial to go after discretionary spending programs.

SHUTDOWN RISK REDUX

But going below the $1.047 trillion Budget Control Act cap might cause other problems with the spending bills needed to keep the government running.

Some Republican aides said deeper cuts would likely mean these measures would lose the support of Democrats, making them very difficult to pass. Although Republicans hold a majority in the House, they have not been able to pass budget and spending legislation without Democratic support for over a year.

The spending cap was meant to ensure Congress does not face a repeat of last year's series of threatened government shutdowns as spending legislation expires.

But if deeper cuts make such appropriations bills harder to pass, an election-year shutdown battle could emerge, setting financial markets on edge as they did during much of 2011.

The Republican Study Committee has pledged spending bills with deeper spending cuts will get sufficient votes to pass.

But one senior Republican aide was not so sure, saying there was a core of about 50 to 80 House Republicans who will vote against all spending bills because they say they were elected to cut wasteful spending in Washington.

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