By Alexander Bolton -The Hill
Rifts have already begun to emerge in the Senate Republican Conference over a House GOP proposal to cut $61 billion from the federal budget.
Conservative and even some mainstream members are calling for Senate Republicans to go even further than the House in trimming government expenditures for the rest of this year.
But centrists facing reelection in 2012 say it would be unwise to cut crucial funds for people who depend on federal assistance to heat their homes or feed their children.
The emerging disagreements signal the challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will face in keeping his conference unified throughout a debate over spending.
McConnell predicted during a radio interview last week that â€œSenate Republicans are going to unify around whatever reduction they can get out of the House,â€ and he re-emphasized that point Tuesday.
â€œWeâ€™ll see whether the Senate wants to establish different priorities,â€ he said. â€œBut in terms of the overall reductions, weâ€™re committed to trying to achieve the same amount of reductions in this fiscal year that hopefully the House will be able to pass later this week.â€
Forging that unity will be a test of McConnellâ€™s leadership skills. He received high praise for keeping Republicans unified against healthcare reform in 2009 and 2010, which increased the political pressure on Democrats.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, called for GOP leaders to go further than the $61 billion proposed by the House. â€œLooks like they could cut $100 billion,â€ he said.
House Republicans pledged during the 2010 campaign to cut $100 billion from the federal budget to bring spending down to fiscal 2008 levels.
The newest proposal would set spending levels at $100 billion fewer than President Obama proposed for fiscal 2011, but it would not cut that much from the spending trajectory set by a stopgap measure due to expire March 4.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said the pending House proposal does not come close to addressing the deficit problem.
â€œItâ€™s still not enough,â€ said Paul. â€œItâ€™s barely a rounding error. If you have $1.5 trillion debt and you make it a $1.45 trillion, you just havenâ€™t cut enough. The presidentâ€™s plan doesnâ€™t address the problem, and the Republican plan still needs to be more bold.â€
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