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Analysts Debate Federal Spending Cuts

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 24, 2011

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GWEN IFILL: Budget battles are heating up on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives today began debating severe spending cuts proposed by the Republican majority.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our story.

KWAME HOLMAN: By putting the issue of spending front and center, House Republicans were sending a clear message on the eve of the president's State of the Union address. Their effort today was to instruct the Budget Committee to reduce nonsecurity spending to pre-2008 levels, which would save $84 billion.

California's David Dreier:

REP. DAVID DREIER (R-Calif.): Time for us to exercise our power of the purse. Restraint is long, long overdue. We must return to prebailout, prebinge-spending levels for funding the federal government. We know that a great deal of hard work and tough decisions lie ahead for every single member of this institution.

KWAME HOLMAN: Programs that could be particularly hard-hit include Amtrak passenger rail, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Even with those cuts, the federal budget deficit is expected to top $1 trillion this year. Democrats, meanwhile, argued broad cuts would have serious consequences.

Oregon's Peter DeFazio:

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-Ore.): If we were only going to get to a balanced budget this year with cuts, that would mean eliminating the entire government of the United States of America. We'd still make our Social Security payments, and we wouldn't be able to exempt the Pentagon, which they want to do, if we wanted to really get to $1.6 trillion.

No more border -- you know, Border Patrol, no more Homeland Security, no more Coast Guard, no more Postal Service, no more Centers for Disease Control. The Department of Education, gone. They wouldn't care much about that. Park Service, I guess we'd probably sell off the parks to the highest bidder. I don't know.

KWAME HOLMAN: Federal spending also dominated the conversation on the Sunday political talk shows.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urged the president to focus on cutting the size of government, not growing it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky.), minority leader: I think excessive government spending, running up debt, making us look like a Western European country, is the wrong direction. That's the direction they took the first two years. The American public, as one pundit put it, issued a massive restraining order. And I don't think we're going to go in that direction any longer.

KWAME HOLMAN: But not all Republicans appear to be on the same page with what to cut. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said everything was on the table, including defense spending. That put him at odds with a group of GOP lawmakers who said last week such cuts should be off-limits.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-Va.), House Majority Leader: But I can tell you we've always said this too. Every dollar should be on the table. And I have said before...

DAVID GREGORY, moderator, Meet The Press: Including defense spending?

REP. ERIC CANTOR: I have -- absolutely.

DAVID GREGORY: OK.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: I have said before, no one can defend the expenditure of every dollar and cent over at the Pentagon.

KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, the president was short on specifics this weekend. In a videotaped message e-mailed to supporters previewing tomorrow night's speech, he stuck to broad themes, such as competitiveness, job creation and responsible deficit reduction.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My principal focus, my number-one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs, not just now, but well into the future. I'm focused on making sure that the economy is working for everybody, for the entire American family.

We're also going to have to deal with our deficits and our debt in a responsible way. And we have got to reform government so that it's leaner and smarter for the 21st century.

KWAME HOLMAN: At the White House today, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters they wouldn't be getting any more from him.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: We're not going to have a debate in Washington about whether we need to make some changes and whether we need to control our spending. We're going to have, hopefully, a bipartisan discussion and work together on how we go about doing that.

KWAME HOLMAN: That discussion will begin in earnest in mid-February, when the president unveils his budget for the coming fiscal year.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Brown has more on the big decisions to come on spending and cutting.

JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we turn to Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy organization that advocates on behalf of lower-income families. And Chris Edwards is director of tax-policy studies at the Cato Institute, which is dedicated to free markets and limited government.

Welcome to both of you.

CHRIS EDWARDS, director of tax-policy studies, Cato Institute: Thank you.

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