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In Budget Battle, Groups Plan To Target Corporate Subsidies

By Edwin Chen
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Setting out to end billions of dollars in subsidies to big business, an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans Tuesday launched a broad new attack on corporate welfare, saying the elderly and the poor must not be alone in bearing the brunt of government budget cuts.

Joined by liberal and conservative citizen groups that span the political spectrum, the bipartisan congressional drive will proceed on two tracks: a short-term hit list of 12 "pork" projects costing $11.5 billion over five years and a longer-term effort to systematically root out corporate subsidies.

"This is just the beginning - another step to end welfare as we know it," said Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), House Budget Committee chairman.

Among others pledging to fight corporate welfare were consumer activist Ralph Nader, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Russell D. Feingold (R-Wis.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and representatives of 10 public interest groups.

"It's great to see such an unlikely group come together to fight for such a worthy goal," Kasich said.

The alliance wants to create a panel to help Congress eliminate subsidies to big businesses in the same way that numerous military bases across the United States were closed under a blue-ribbon commission.

"This is not right vs. left, it's the establishment vs. consumers and taxpayers," said Grover G. Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform.

The coalition's hit list includes a $45 million payout to private timber companies to build timber roads in forests and a Department of Energy program that is funneling $1.37 billion over five years to private industry for research and development of alternative methods for producing fuel.

Also targeted is the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which provides loans and loan guarantees to companies that invest in developing countries, and the Agriculture Department program that subsidizes loans to rural electrical cooperatives at below-market rates.

"This initial hit list of corporate handouts is just the beginning of a much longer list of outrageous government giveaways," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a liberal activist group.

Thomas A. Schatz, head of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that there may be as many as 500 such programs with a total public tab of $1.2 trillion.