(CNSNews.com) -While pushing President Bush's tax relief package and his request for war money, House Republicans and conservative groups also want steps taken to eliminate almost $300 billion in waste, fraud and abuse from the 2004 budget.
The budget cuts are under assault by liberal groups and may not survive conference committee negotiations with the Senate, but conservatives say they are ready for a fight.
"We are going to fight for that House budget and everything in that House budget," said Dan Clifton of Americans for Tax Reform.
House conservatives will do the same, promised Republican Study Committee executive director Neil Bradley.
"Frankly, a month ago if someone would have suggested that the House would have passed a budget that restrained the growth of spending, the same cynical people would have said, no way, that will never happen. The House will never pass that," said Bradley.
"Now cynics are saying, no way that will ever come out of conference," said Bradley. "The fact is the House did pass it because we're serious about it."
The House budget resolution passed March 21 directs various congressional committees to pass legislation with $265 billion (one percent) in cuts over ten years directed at entitlement, or "mandatory," programs.
Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and veterans' retirement benefits are specifically exempted, but liberal groups charge that the programs that do get cut would hurt the poor, elderly and permanently disabled who depend on such programs.
"Class warfare turns out to be alive," said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It is a centerpiece of the House-passed budget, with deep budget cuts that could harshly affect the poor, the vulnerable, and many middle-class Americans, alongside lavish tax cuts for the nation's richest individuals.
"Are tax cuts averaging $90,000 a year for millionaires so high a priority that we should cut health care programs, increase the ranks of the uninsured, reduce the cost or limit the availability of student loans and increase hardship among the disabled, poor children, and others to free up room for massive tax cuts?" Greenstein asked.
According to the center's calculations, the budget cuts would average not one percent but four percent over ten years, and the bulk of the cuts would come out of programs for low- and middle-income families: $92 billion from Medicaid, $2 billion from the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), $14 billion from veterans' programs, $13 billion from food stamps, and $7 billion from farm programs.
Conservatives say none of the cuts would impact program beneficiaries.
"Kids aren't going to be starving at lunchtime," said Kyle Downey, spokesman for the House Budget Committee.
"We also wrote [the budget cuts] so that you have to identify the waste, fraud and abuse first," Downey added. "There is a mountain of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government...that people in the real world would get arrested for."
"If you want to find the waste, fraud and abuse, it's in the entitlements," like Medicare, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income, said the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards. The General Accounting Office and other watchdog groups have produced many reports showing billions of dollars going to scam health care providers, Edwards noted.
According to Clifton of Americans for Tax Reform, the federal food stamp program overpays approximately $1.3 billon a year and Medicare overpayments totaled some $12.1 billion in 2001.
"I don't consider that a cut to somebody's food stamp check ... if they're not supposed to be getting the money," said Clifton.
Cutting wasteful spending is the best way to bring the budget back in balance, Clifton added.
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