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Gingrich Maps Republican Plan to Shrink Government

By Kenneth J. Cooper
The Washington Post

House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Monday charted a sprawling map of Republican pathways to a limited federal government, promising a "pretty big" package of spending cuts early next year, floating the idea of a one-year moratorium on clean air regulations and identifying Energy and Housing and Urban Development as cabinet agencies most vulnerable to elimination.

Gingrich expanded his proposed alternatives to federal antipoverty programs by suggesting tax credits to encourage charitable donations to help the poor and saying he preferred the welfare revisions that governors have proposed over those in the Gingrich-inspired "Contract with America." He similarly called for loosening federal control over Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poorest Americans.

Three weeks from becoming the first Republican speaker in 40 years, Gingrich also endorsed a term limit of eight years on speakers, similar to the restriction that the Constitution imposes on presidents.

Besides his proposals on specific federal policies, Gingrich sketched out his views on broader issues of government, economics and race during a two-hour luncheon with Washington Post editors and reporters. The former history professor studded his responses with verbal footnotes to the books of historians.

"I'm not anti-government," Gingrich declared in explaining his opposition to the "Great Society" programs of the 1960s. "I don't believe social engineering works. I don't believe building large centralized government structures works."

Within the first two months of 1995, Gingrich said "probably the most fiscally conservative Congress since the '20s" would consider a package of spending cuts in the 1995 budget that will be "pretty big, I think." He said House Republican leaders have asked incoming Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., to make the spending cuts "as big as you're comfortable" making.

A Livingston aide said the package would range "somewhere in the billions" and would be developed during Appropriations Committee hearings the first two weeks of January. "They're going to specifically be hearings on what to cut and why," the aide said. "Most appropriations hearings are on what we need to spend and why."

On environmental regulation, Gingrich cited warnings from governors that a 1995 deadline for states to reduce certain air pollutants would create "an economic catastrophe of the first order." The deadline was set in the Clean Air Act of 1990, which Gingrich supported on an overwhelming vote for House passage.

"Every governor I talk to says this is going to be a crisis in 1995," Gingrich said, specifically mentioning Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California. Virginia has also experienced trouble coming up with a plan to meet the clean air standards.

In a letter to President Clinton Monday, Gingrich joined other GOP leaders of the House and Senate in proposing a 100-day moratorium on new federal regulations. They asked the administration to use the time to review the regulatory burden and recommend cuts in red tape.

Gingrich indicated that the weak political constituencies for the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Energy would make them prime candidates for cuts in the bureaucracy. He cited "a very limited constituency" for Energy.

"I would argue that you could abolish HUD tomorrow morning and improve life in most of America," he predicted, before adding: "I think HUD's reputation is now so bad and the whole public housing policy has been such a failure that it's very hard to sustain HUD."

But Gingrich said the federal government could still increase the stock of low-income housing, for example, by giving HUD-owned land to Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer group that builds homes for the poor. He wore a lapel pin of the nonprofit group more identified with another Georgian, former President Jimmy Carter. "We are looking at creating a tax credit for people to give money to private sector institutions that care for the poor," Gingrich said.

He called himself a cautious believer in supply side economics, the theory embraced by President Ronald Reagan that tax cuts generate more than enough economic activity to pay for themselves.