WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Republicans will propose new cuts in defense and security spending this week, signaling they are prepared to address politically sensitive areas to tame the ballooning federal deficit, a leading congressman said on Thursday.
Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said the Republican leadership has invited House members to find ways to exceed the $32 billion in spending cuts announced by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama already has endorsed a Pentagon proposal to cut $78 billion from the Pentagon’s core $550 billion-plus spending plan from 2012 to 2016.
But Issa told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that Republicans will go further: “There have been some real cuts in defense spending. Additionally, we’ve found, and it’ll come out this week from Appropriations, some additional security cuts that can be made without reducing our troops’ in the field real effectiveness.”
Defense cuts present Republicans with an unusual challenge because their members have strongly supported Pentagon funding and chafed at proposed reductions as measures that threaten to undercut defense efforts in a time of war.
Issa offered no further specifics on defense and security cuts but added: “Then we come back to deal with entitlements, which is a large pot of money, hard to deal with, but we intend to make real reform,” he said.
House Republicans have concentrated so far on non-defense discretionary spending, avoiding more difficult decisions to cut entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare as well as military spending, which together account for most of the $3.7 trillion U.S. budget.
Issa’s comments came a day after Republicans unveiled a spending reduction plan that targeted some of Obama’s key spending goals, even as top House Republicans had lunch at the White House and emerged optimistic about the prospect of working with Obama to cut spending and boost trade.
The spending reductions unveiled this week would represent the largest budget cut in U.S. history, if enacted.
Republican leaders, who promised voters $100 billion in spending cuts during the 2010 mid-term election campaign, are being pressed for an additional $26 billion in reductions by newly elected conservative members.
“I‘m positive that there will be Republicans offering and probably having accepted real additional cuts on the floor,” Issa said.
“I‘m confident that we’ll get over $100 billion in real cuts at an annualized basis.”
The push for cuts in Congress prompted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to warn this week that sharp spending cuts in the short term could cripple an economic recovery that is still fragile enough to warrant support from the central bank.
Editing by Bill Trott