Cuts from A to Z

Spelling out deficit reduction


President Clinton's announcement that the 1994 budget deficit would reach "only" $180 billion–a figure 40-percent smaller than projected last year–hasn't dampened spending-cut fever on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of House members is pushing a bill that could eviscerate most pork-barrel programs.

Last August, Rep. William Zeliff (R-N.H.) asked Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) for a special session of Congress to propose additional cuts to the current budget. A majority of the 435 House members–160 Republicans and 74 Democrats–signed Zeliff's letter to Foley. When the speaker did not respond, Zeliff joined with Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) to propose HR 3266, the "A to Z Spending Cut Program."

This bill would require a special session of Congress to consider spending cuts. Each member would have the opportunity to propose cuts in a single federal program or a package of cuts in different agencies. Each proposal would then be debated on the floor, and an on-record, up-or-down vote would follow.

Zeliff legislative assistant Chip Griffin suggests it will be difficult to pass packages that simultaneously cut several programs. Instead, he predicts that most of the proposals will seek to cut or eliminate one item in the budget, say, the $5 million to build a parliament building on the Solomon Islands, which belong to the British Commonwealth, or the $142 million in helium subsidies.

In early March, the A to Z bill had 180 cosponsors and the staunch opposition of Foley and every committee chairman. Griffin says supporters hope to persuade Democratic leaders to act on the bill by gathering at least 218 cosponsors–a majority of House members.

If that fails, Zeliff has said he will rely upon an obscure House rule known as a discharge petition. When supporters of a bill collect the signatures of at least 218 members on a discharge petition, that bill must come to the floor for a vote without any amendments.

Zeliff calls his plan "so simple it's scary." With the Congressional Budget Office's prediction that ClintonCare would add to the deficit, not reduce it, and the continuing debate over a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, deficits stay in the headlines. Members of Congress may have a tough time dodging this one-time chance to make real spending cuts.