Washington Prowler

Pence Politics

House offsetters anger House leaders. Also: Rick Santorum trails. STARTING TOMORROW, incidentally, the Prowler will also be reporting on our new AmSpec Blog. Check back for further details.

By 9.26.05

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PRYCE IS NOT RIGHT
Last Wednesday, Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, joined colleagues at a press conference to flesh out their "Operation Offset" report, which laid out more than $900 billion in potential budget savings to offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina and other unexpected budget busters.

The report was in part inspired by President Bush's statement that no new taxes would be required for the hundred billion dollar price tag that Katrina is representing, and that budget cuts would do the trick. As well, fiscal conservatives in both the House and the Senate continue to harbor ill will toward the pork-laden transportation and energy bills, as well as the Medicare prescription drug plan passed largely due to Republican leadership efforts to ram the legislation through the process.

The press conference and report was but one sign that, particularly on the House side, Republicans are chafing at House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Republican leader Tom DeLay's refusal to deal with out of control spending that may create political problems for Republicans, if not in 2006, then definitely in 2008.

"The bill will come due sooner or later," says a House Republican Study Committee member. "It's just a matter of when. We can't keep doing this. President Bush promised a veto on transportation, and he didn't do it. We begged him to look at the energy bill for cuts. The White House didn't. We thought we'd help things along with this report."

But House GOP leadership didn't take kindly to the HRSC's assistance. After the press conference, according to HRSC and House leadership sources, Pence and HRSC members were called on the carpet by Hastert and Republican Conference chair Deborah Pryce. "We were told in no uncertain terms to shut up," says the HRSC member. "They want us to go away, believing that somehow this issue will go away too."

Of greatest concern to Hastert and Pryce are the mid-term elections and the belief that "Operation Offset" would be used as ammunition by Democrats, says a Republican House leadership staffer. "They could say, 'See? Republicans want to cut Medicaid. They want to cut welfare.' The HRSC document looks like an official party document. It is going to be used like one by the Democrats. We don't need that right now."

But "Operation Offset" doesn't call for anything particularly radical or outrageous. For example, it recommends delaying the Medicare prescription benefit plan for one year, but to keep the discount card program running, cutting off financial underwriting of the District of Columbia and eliminating money-losing and under-utilized Amtrak routes.

Silent in lashing out at the fiscal conservatives was Republican leader Tom DeLay, who has publicly claimed that Republicans have actually controlled spending during their time in Congressional control. DeLay, according to sources, is hesitant to weigh in too heavily against the group led by Pence, which has been supportive of him during Democratic attempts to take DeLay down over supposed ethics irregularities.

RICK'S CLOSED
Sen. Rick Santorum continues to lag badly in both public and private polls in his re-election bid against Pennsylvania's Democratic state treasurer Bob Casey, Jr.. Some polls show Santorum as much as 30 points down.

"What's really troubling is that Casey hasn't done a damn thing, and Rick is still down. It's frustrating," says a Republican fundraiser who does work in Pennsylvania.

Republican leaders in Washington are growing increasingly concerned about the race, which they -- like the Democrats -- have targeted as a critical race in the 2006 election cycle. More troubling, is Santorum's seeming lack of interest in adjusting his campaign style.

"He doesn't seem to care that he's down and not gaining ground," says a Republican National Committee staffer. "In talking to donors, fundraisers, staff, he acts like he's doing us a favor by letting us help him. He needs an attitude adjustment or he's going to find no one watching his back when this campaign really heats up."

And as the bad buzz continues, that is something to consider. By any standard, the Senate race is still very much in its early stages, and Santorum, according to campaign sources, has not fully energized his organization.

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