WASHINGTON - As President Barack Obama unveils on Thursday what is widely expected to be an austere budget for 2010, several members of Congress from New York indicated on Wednesday they will look everywhere else before they look in their own backyard for ways to cut federal spending.
"There are many areas that can and should be cut in the budget," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), "and I expect the president to identify them in the one he is submitting to congress this week."
But like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and the five members of the House from Long Island, Schumer had no specific suggestions on cuts that would come from New York's share of the federal budget.
Instead, they followed Obama's lead, targeting subsidies to big agribusiness, no-bid wasteful defense contracts, and the elimination of fraud and abuse. Meanwhile, they look to savings from winding down the Iraq war and allowing taxes to rise on the wealthiest.
"The temptation when you look at the budget is to think in terms of what can be cut," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who sits on the House Budget Committee. "We also have to look at areas where revenues can increase."
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who will play a major role in shaping the final budget as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, also first pointed to the savings from slashing farm subsidies and closing loopholes for companies based in tax havens like the Bahamas.
Israel also said some redundant, little-known agencies could be cut, and will propose a commission to come up with a list of them to phase out that would be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
In addition to cuts in farm subsidies and cutting back on private contractors, Gillibrand suggested savings from allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.
"With taxpayers footing nearly 75 percent of the bill for prescription drugs for 43 million Medicare participants, it is clear we would save money in the budget by negotiating lower prices," she said.
Coincidentally, Obama is to release an outline and some detail of a budget for next year that seeks to reduce overall spending a day after the House approved a leftover $410 billion appropriations bill for this year with $7.7 billion in earmarks, including many for New York.
The politicians acknowledged that Obama might call on them to give up some of those local projects, as he did in his address to Congress Tuesday night.
"We're all going to have to give up on some of our priorities," said Israel. "The reality is that this economy has not been worse since the Great Depression. That means we're going to have to make some hard decisions."
But none of the elected officials relished having to cut back on earmarks for local projects near to the hearts of their constituents.
"Cuts have to be made. We all have to pull our belts in," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola). She offered reluctant support for Obama "if he wants to suspend earmarks for a couple years" to help with the deficit.
But that's an idea that Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) rejected.
If overall discretionary spending must be cut, he said he would rather be in charge of how it is distributed than a bureaucrat who doesn't know Long Island. "I would rather say how I would want . . . to spend in my district than have it decided for me," Ackerman said.