Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Idaho delegates oppose Obama’s budget

They say spending freeze won’t fix crisis

Express Staff Writer

Though President Barack Obama's proposed $3.8 trillion budget slashes spending on domestic programs and freezes spending at current levels, Idaho delegates said this week that his efforts are not enough to lift the country out of fiscal turmoil.

"America really needs leadership from the president on this issue and he is not providing it," said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, in a press release.

Brad Hoaglun, spokesman for the senator, elaborated further, saying the president should take advantage of his "bully pulpit" to unite the different factions of Congress.

"The president really has to lay out a vision," Hoaglun said. "With this budget, he says we're going to freeze spending. We need something more than that."

The problem, say Republicans, is that the president's budget does not reduce spending enough. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, stated Monday that the country was facing "looming financial destruction."

Crapo, a member of the Senate Budget Committee and of the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, said the budget has been too high for more than 10 years, and Obama's plan doesn't rectify the rapidly escalating national debt.

"We're not really cutting," said Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo. "Debts and deficits continue to grow under [the president's] budget."

Hoaglun said Risch agrees with his colleague.

"You freeze the budget right now, and that doesn't work," he said, adding that the only way to fix the budget is to pull back on government even further, possibly to 2006 levels.

"Whether that's achievable, it might not be," Hoaglun said. "We may pull back to 2008 levels. It remains to be seen what can be passed."

When it comes to identifying specific programs to cut, both Hoaglun and Nothern declined to specify. While Risch stated Monday that the way to reduce spending was to refocus on the "core functions" of government, Hoaglun said the definition of those functions is subjective.

"Everyone has their own ideas," he said, adding that national defense is likely one that most lawmakers can agree on. Still, he said, Risch is willing to be flexible on his idea of what the government absolutely has to fund.

"He knows what he wants, but he's not going to fall on his sword and say it's my way or no way," Hoaglun said.

He declined to be more specific on which government functions the senator views as crucial.

Nothern said Crapo is only committed to maintaining government funding for infrastructure and "safety net" programs.

"Everything else is on the table," he said.

"Everything else" could include funding for certain Environmental Protection Agency programs that Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, proposed cutting for fiscal year 2011 earlier this week.

Simpson, chair of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, submitted language to the 2011 Continuing Resolution that cut the subcommittee's budget by $4.5 billion, reducing EPA funding by 30 percent overall.

"The simple truth is that you can't spend money you don't have," Simpson stated in a press release.

The continuing resolution is meant to authorize congressional spending for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. If approved, the resolution would also cut funding for climate-change mitigation programs by 41 percent. The cuts were also proposed by Simpson.

Though Simpson's office did not return phone calls by press time, both Hoaglun and Nothern said the Idaho delegates support the congressman's proposals. However, Nothern said more cuts will be needed to "entitlement" programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

"That's where a lot of the tough medicine will be," he said.

The Republicans will not draft their budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 until April, so it remains to be seen how deeply and where the majority will make cuts. But, Nothern said, cuts are greatly preferable to attempts to increase revenue.

"It's pretty delicate out there," he said. "A hefty tax increase would just make things worse."

Katherine Wutz:

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