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Republicans map out their agenda of less
Conservatives, meanwhile, dismissed the proposal as too puny to satisfy a public fed up with three years of bailouts, deficit-spending and other far-reaching government programs.
"This is a good start, but Congress can do much more," said Brian Riedl, lead budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation, who recently put out a list of $343 billion in cuts for congressional perusal. "Government has expanded by $727 billion over the last three years. Congress should be able to cut at least half of it."
Such a rescissions package would come nowhere near balancing the budget and would barely dent the $1.4 trillion deficit the White House projects for this year. That means Treasury Department borrowing will continue apace, setting the stage for a showdown sometime next spring when Republican leaders will have to rally their troops to support an increase in the legal limit on government debt - or force the nation into default.
Congress routinely votes to raise the federal debt limit and last did so in February.
But conservatives such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), incoming chairman of the Republican Study Committee, are already lining up to demand even deeper cuts in exchange for their vote to permit the national debt to keep climbing past the current limit of $14.3 trillion.
"They really need to tie it to full extension of the Bush tax cuts or major spending cuts," said Ryan Hecker, the Houston attorney behind the tea-party inspired "Contract from America," which was signed by dozens of GOP candidates. "If they're going to raise the debt limit, we would need to see some real economic conservativism in return."
Republican leaders recognize that such an approach could prompt a dangerous game of chicken with President Obama and congressional Democrats - with the fate of the global financial system hanging in the balance. In an interview Thursday with ABC News, Speaker-in-waiting John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to answer a question about how he plans to handle the vote. Cantor did as well.
"A vote on either side of that issue has really tremendous consequences. We've got at least three months until that vote takes place," Cantor said. Until then, he said, "we have to demonstrate a regular commitment, week in and week out, that we're serious about addressing the country's fiscal problem by cutting spending."
Cantor acknowledged that any effort to solve the nation's budget problems "is going to have to deal with entitlements" - big, popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare. But in his blueprint, Cantor said that real entitlement reform is probably off the table so long as Obama is in the White House because Democrats want higher taxes to support benefits at their current levels. "I cannot go along with such a deal," Cantor wrote.
Instead, he is urging his party to "immediately start a conversation with the nation about the kind of entitlement changes necessary for us to keep the promises made to seniors" while holding down the debt burden that will be passed along to "young workers and our children."
As of Friday, the national debt stood at $13.7 trillion. Treasury officials say they expect to hit the $14.3 trillion cap sometime during the first half of next year.
"Congress has never failed to increase the debt limit when necessary," Treasury spokesman Steve Adamske said. "And we are confident Congress will act in 2011 to ensure that the full faith and credit of the United States is protected."