Floodgates Open For Suggestions To Cut Spending

US lawmakers respond to Clinton's call to submit ideas for further federal savings

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PRESIDENT Clinton and his budget director, Leon Panetta, demanded that their critics provide "specifics" to cut federal spending. Now the ideas are pouring in. Hundreds of them.

Citizens Against Government Waste suggests canceling the $800,000 being spent for two new bike paths in North Miami Beach and eliminating the $2 million for Savannah, Ga., to renovate two movie theaters.

Rep. Harris Fawell (R) of Illinois would stop development of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's advanced solid-rocket motor and save $1.65 billion within five years. He would also scrap the space station and save $9.7 billion.

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Rep. Christopher Cox (R) of California would slash the budget for Congress itself. The starting point: Knock one-third off the $440 million annual tab for Congress's General Accounting Office.

Many Democrats are equally vociferous. Timothy Penny (D) of Minnesota says to make a real dent in the deficit, it will be necessary to go after cost-of-living adjustments for military and other federal retirees. He also wants the retirement age raised.

Representative Penny notes that Mr. Clinton already is expanding the tax on Social Security benefits for upper-income retirees, but he says that more must be done to reduce the cost of other entitlements.

The president's call for more savings was exactly the signal many groups in Washington were waiting for. Fax machines all over Washington started humming.

Representative Fawell, co-chair (along with Penny) of the "Porkbusters Coalition" in the House, sent out a list of 745 programs to be dumped.

Fawell's list is a take-no-prisoners attack on federal spending. He demands cutbacks in programs that are too local; or which have failed; or which private enterprise can do better; or which help people who don't need help.

Fawell says he found $19 billion of savings in one year; $199 billion of savings in five years. But he warns time is running out. "This country is quietly going into bankruptcy," he says.

Adding to these voices is Ross Perot. Testifying this week before a joint committee of Congress, Mr. Perot said that it is not just "pork" that has to be chopped out of the federal budget.

The federal debt ($4 trillion) has grown so large that now even programs that have substantial merit may have to be jettisoned to clean up the nation's balance sheet, Perot says.

Attitudes of many on Capitol Hill, particularly Republicans and moderate Democrats, are summed up by Sen. Bill Cohen (R) of Maine.

"I believe President Clinton's budget plan does not go far enough in cutting federal spending," Senator Cohen says.

O prove that more can be axed from the budget on a bipartisan basis, Cohen joined with Sen. Dale Bumpers (D) of Arkansas, Sen. Jim Sasser (D) of Tennessee, and Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia to propose killing two expensive projects: the manned space station and the superconducting supercollider.

Together, these two projects would cost more than $50 billion by the year 2000 and more than $130 billion during their life cycles, Cohen says.

"With our Rolls-Royce ambition but our Rent-A-Wreck budget, we are continuing to run up a deficit that will imprison future generations of this country," Cohen says. "Unless we make some substantial cuts like these, there is no hope that we will ever get our debt under control."

In a floor speech, Senator Bumpers said he was not only trying to keep faith with the president, a fellow Arkansan, but to "one-up" him. He says there are "still billions left on the table" to be cut. Bumpers would also like to knock another $1 billion off the $4.3 billion authorization for Strategic Defense Initiative.

Budget critics have another concern. Interest payments are skyrocketing as the national debt grows by nearly $1 billion a day.

BUMPERS suggests that if Congress nipped $1 billion a year off the intelligence budget, that would save $35 billion in the next 35 years, plus another $45 billion in interest. A little saved now amounts to big bucks in the future.

Another key problem is that too many well-off Americans are feeding off federal programs meant for those in need, critics say.

For example, Rep. David Dreier (R) of California says when a family enrolls a child in the subsidized school-lunch program, there's no way to know whether the family is in poverty.

"As a result, 20 percent of the children in that program come from families with incomes above $50,000," Mr. Dreier says. "Eliminating these subsidies ... would save $3 billion [in five years]."

Many lawmakers say they hope Clinton's search for savings has just begun. Fawell says there are "papers and documents all over Washington" with ideas to cut spending, including studies by the Heritage Foundation, the Progressive Policy Institute, the General Accounting Office, and the Congressional Budget Office.

Former Sen. Warren Rudman (R) of New Hampshire, co-chairman of the Concord Coalition, says Clinton didn't go far enough. So far, the president is just "tinkering at the margins," he says.

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