Administrator’s Note: I had to take a deep breath after reading this one due to what happened to spending under Lewis’ last tenure as appropriations chair.
08:01 AM PDT on Wednesday, September 29, 2010
By BEN GOAD
WASHINGTON – Facing the threat of a possible government shutdown, Democrats on Tuesday ceded to GOP demands that billions of dollars in extra funding sought by the Obama administration be left out of a bill that must pass Congress by Friday.
Inland Rep. Jerry Lewis, who has relentlessly blasted Democrats and the White House for what he describes as federal spending run amok, helped lead the charge against the funding add-ons. The tough talk comes as Republicans, using their call for fiscal restraint as a top election issue, hope to regain the majority in the House, and as Lewis himself sets his sights on a powerful committee chairmanship.
After Senate Democrats unveiled the stopgap bill late Tuesday, Lewis described the decision to proceed without most of the extra funding as a symbolic victory in the fight to trim the federal deficit.
“I’ve got the feeling that, across the board, Democrats too were starting to listen to the public,” said Lewis R-Redlands, “They’re telling us not to spend more.”
Lewis had vowed to vote against any version of the bill loaded with the requested additional funding, which totaled more than $20 billion and included money for the U.S. Post Office, Pell student loan grants and Obama’s Race to the Top program, which rewards states that foster reform and innovation in their schools.
Yet some question whether Lewis and other Republicans are committed to reining in spending.
Among them is Steve Ellis, vice president of the government watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, who pointed to years in the late ’90s and the first half of this decade when Republicans controlled Congress and the deficit expanded.
Ellis said it was unclear whether the rhetoric from Lewis and the GOP reflects a real shift from previous positions or “some kind of deathbed electoral conversion,” in advance of the upcoming November elections.
The stopgap measure to keep the federal government running when the fiscal year expires at midnight Thursday is needed because Congress has failed to pass any of the 12 separate annual spending bills that fund all federal departments and agencies.
Called a continuing resolution, it has become increasingly commonplace in recent years, as lawmakers have been unable to get many of the spending bills passed by the end of September.
Since passage is needed to avoid a shutdown, the bill is an attractive vehicle for funding add-ons.
Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, railed against administration requests totaling over $20 billion for a broad array of projects and programs.
“At a time of extreme spending and political fatigue, it is simply unacceptable to use a must-pass CR (continuing resolution) as a legislative vehicle for more wasteful federal spending or completing an array of unfinished political business before the election,” Lewis and the 22 other GOP Appropriation Committee members wrote in a letter to the panel’s chairman, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.
According to a tally issued by the panel’s Republicans, the administration had sought roughly $10 billion in unused stimulus money that would otherwise be returned to the U.S. Treasury, $5.5 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, and billions more to implement already passed Wall Street and health care reform bills.
Most, if not all, of those provisions appear to have been left out of the bill, though lawmakers and staffers were still examining the language Tuesday night, said Lewis spokeswoman Jennifer Hing.
Lewis also has a political stake in the spending fight. Republicans are eying a takeover in the House, and several political handicappers say it is more likely than not, given a climate of voter anger over the continuing economic downturn.
As the Appropriations Committee’s highest-ranking Republican member, Lewis could be in line to assume the chairmanship if the GOP regains the majority in the House. The impact of that shift could be felt across the Inland area, since Lewis would be at the helm of the panel that controls government spending.
The Republicans generally follow term-limit guidelines for certain positions. Having served as top GOP House appropriator for three congressional terms, including one as chairman from 2005 to 2006, Lewis would technically be termed out of the seat. But he likely would seek a waiver from the Republican steering committee, of which he and ally Ken Calvert, R-Corona, are members.
Minority Leader John Boehner, who would become House speaker in a Republican majority, would get five steering committee votes, giving him large sway over the decision.
Lewis has been a vocal proponent of Boehner’s agenda.
Responding to claims that spending went up during Lewis’s tenure as chairman, spokesman Jim Specht said only two of the 12 annual spending bills saw increases, and those were largely due to costs related to the war in Iraq and the nation’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Lewis agreed this year to a voluntary moratorium on earmarks declared by House Republicans to show fiscal responsibility.
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