- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

White House budget chief Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. yesterday challenged Democrats to come up with their own budget plan, instead of just criticizing President Bush's $2.2 trillion budget as irresponsible.
"For all the speeches I hear when I come here, I never hear a plan different than the one the president proposes," Mr. Daniels said, testifying before the House Budget Committee. "And I am still waiting to hear which of the things he wants to do, given the situation we are facing, do you believe are unwise? It's a legitimate debate, but let's have it."
That challenge came on the day when Mr. Daniels and other top administration officials, including newly sworn-in Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, trooped to Capitol Hill to push the president's budget proposal in Congress, where Democrats denounced the Bush plan's deficits even as one top Republican called for swift action on $1.3 trillion in new tax cuts.
"We need to act soon," said Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying he plans to push the president's tax-relief measure through the House by the end of March.
Democrats on the budget panel pledged yesterday that they would come up with an alternative to the president's budget, echoing the earlier remarks of a leading House Democrat.
"I think the majority of us think we've got to put forth our own budget," House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland told The Washington Times in an interview published yesterday. While others in his party disagree, Mr. Hoyer said congressional Democrats' failure to propose a budget last year hurt the party in the midterm elections.
While Mr. Daniels pitched the Bush budget to the House Budget Committee, the administration's new Treasury secretary defended the president's tax-cut proposals in the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I haven't met one economist who hasn't said, 'This is good, strong economic policy that promotes growth,'" Mr. Snow told the committee.
"I'll send you a list," replied Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told the budget panel that Mr. Bush's tax-cut plans including the elimination of taxes on dividends "ensure that the recovery will proceed."
But Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat, contended that the Bush plan "is very nearly anti-growth."
The sometimes spirited exchanges yesterday between Mr. Daniels and Democrats on the House Budget Committee clearly marked the strategies of budget politics leading up to the 2004 elections.
Democrats are skewering Mr. Bush for submitting a budget that includes a $690 billion economic stimulus package and forecasts $300 billion deficits in each of the next two years. Deficits would grow by as much as $100 billion more in the event of war in Iraq.
Republicans counter that the projected deficits are the fault of an economy that has been slowing since March 2000, the arrival of terrorism on U.S. soil and war abroad. Spending on homeland security and beefing up the military also can't be helped, they say.
"The deficit's origins are no mystery," Mr. Daniels told the committee yesterday. "It was the product of a triple witching hour in which recession, war and the collapse of a stock market bubble coincided, presenting our country and government with a radical change of circumstances."
Mr. Daniels said the president's $1.35 trillion tax cut passed in 2001 and phased in slowly during the next 10 years kept the economy from faltering even more.
"If there had never been a 2001 tax cut, if the president's opponents had been triumphant and no tax relief had been provided to the American people, we would still be experiencing triple-digit deficits today," Mr. Daniels said.
The $300 billion deficit, Mr. Daniels said, is a lower percentage of gross domestic product (2.8 percent) than it was at any time from 1982 to 1994.
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, complimented Mr. Daniels for being a "good, loyal soldier" of the Bush administration but upbraided him for what he called mismanagement of the economy.
"The price of that loyalty is that you will have to take some responsibility for the worst economic management in American history," Mr. Moran said.
Mr. Moran criticized the Bush budget, filled with what he called "tax cuts and other spending," as "the riskiest economic plan I've ever seen."
Mr. Daniels countered by saying that if Democrats think the 2001 tax cuts were such a bad idea, they should move to repeal them.
"I would simply invite you to bring a plan forward," Mr. Daniels said. "The money has not been, in your usage, spent. Almost all of it remains with American taxpayers. If [repealing those tax cuts] is really the right thing to do, then please propose it and let's have a good, honest debate."
Republicans on the House Budget Committee said they are happy that Mr. Bush's budget keeps increases in discretionary spending at 4 percent, after several years of 9 percent annual growth in spending during the 1990s. But some want discretional spending restrained to no more than the growth of the economy about 3 percent.
"I'm glad to hear that my colleagues on the other side have such a passionate concern about the size of the deficit," said Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. "It gives me hope that they will join me in working to try to cut some spending in this budget and throughout the appropriation process."

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