Colo. Representatives Pushing Creative Ideas to Cut Trillions from Federal Budget

January 24, 2011
In The News

By Allison Sherry

Cutting the federal budget is all the rage in the new U.S. House of Representatives, with Colorado members vying to wedge their creative ideas - from reneging on planned stimulus projects to cutting their own pay - into legislation.

Freshman Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez hopes to pare down regulation on such items as food and health care. Republican Cory Gardner of Yuma wants to return unspent stimulus money to the Treasury and solicit advice from constituents via Facebook on where to cut federal spending waste.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, wants to cut public funding to National Public Radio, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora hopes to save $5.5 billion by furloughing federal employees and cutting his own $174,000 annual pay by 10 percent.

"You've got to pay the piper at some point, and that point is now. You can't take money from the federal government that we don't have and put it in the private sector," Gardner said. "The economy is not run by the tooth fairy."

This comes at a time when House Republicans - fresh off the feisty midterm campaign trail - pledged last week to pare $2.5 trillion from the budget over the next decade, excluding spending on military and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Those exclusions would mean that other areas, like education and transportation, would be cut drastically.

Because everything passed in the Republican-controlled House also has to pass the U.S. Senate and the president's desk, many of these ideas likely won't see the light of day.

That is not stopping lawmakers such as Lamborn, on his second try to strip $450 million in public money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Coffman from pitching them anyway - in part to prove street credibility as fiscal conservatives and in part to honor campaign promises.

"The voters are concerned about deficits and the growing debt," Coffman said. "It's second on the list below their immediate concern about jobs and the economy."

Coffman's idea to force the almost 3 million federal workers to take two weeks of furloughs has been greeted harshly, particularly here, where so many people earn their livelihood toiling in federal agencies.

Among his hate mail, Coffman said, was a letter from his sister who works for the Department of Defense.

"She was pretty angry," he said. "I think the most important thing I'm doing is pushing the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. We have to have tough debates over priorities, and here in Washington we don't have to do it."

Gardner wants to move any "unspent" stimulus money from the original $787 billion package back to the Treasury. Federal officials say, though, there is only about $7 billion left and that $3.7 billion of that is devoted to future high-speed-rail projects.

Gardner said that as long as he "wouldn't get the federal government sued," he would pull back on projects already slated.

"If it's unspent money, then it ought to come back," Gardner said. "I think that trillion-dollar stimulus bill was a failure."

Not so, says Richard Ledezma, a project manager at Jalisco Construction, the contractor for the Interstate 25/Alameda Avenue expansion project in Denver paid for in part by stimulus money.

If the dollars were yanked back now, Ledezma says, "you'd have a half-completed project, piles of dirt and exposed earth and wall all over the place. It would look (bad) for a long time."

Though in the minority, Democratic House members say they do not want to get left out of the budget-cuts discussion.

Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver says ideas to make government more efficient are great but that some of this headline- grabbing stuff is not going to make a real dent.

Last week, the House passed a measure that cuts down on the number of printed copies of bills made each year that will save roughly $2 million annually.

"I think some politicians think voters are stupid," DeGette said. "We have a gigantic deficit, and I think voters are going to think this little stuff is not going to make a real difference."

Her idea? Adopt proposals from the president's debt-reduction commission, such as cleaving military spending and halting some agriculture subsidies.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, says he's interested in simplifying the tax code - including getting rid of some deductions.

Polis is also urging a 15 percent reduction in military spending, and he points out that pulling out of Afghanistan could save $100 billion a year.

"Cutting the budget is super- important because we're spending beyond our means," Polis said. "And you have to include defense in that; you can't balance our budget without looking at defense."

Link to Original Article: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17178821