- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

A group of Republicans this week told party leaders that the tax and spending cuts in the House version of the 2004 budget are too bold and that it is destined to fail because both centrists and conservatives have problems with it.
Hours before the House Budget Committee passed the budget along a party-line vote early yesterday morning, a group of 15 to 20 Republicans notified House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of their displeasure.
The budget is "opposed across the board," said a source familiar with the group of centrists that calls itself the Main Street Partnership.
As currently written, it "is not going to happen because it's not just moderates, but conservatives who have problems with it," said the source.
John Feehery, spokesman for Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said disagreements and negotiations are hardly unique to this year's budget.
"The speaker always calls this the toughest vote of the year," Mr. Feehery said. "It has been since we've been in the majority. We try to do big things and sometimes that can be hard. This will be no different."
The House version, which implements the president's $1.4 trillion economic-growth package, requires every government program excluding homeland security, defense, Social Security and unemployment benefits to be cut by 1 percent.
Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, who authored the budget, said the hardest part will be enacting cuts in entitlements like Medicare an area congressmen have been loath to touch.
He said the goals can be met simply by working to eliminate the "waste, fraud and abuse" identified by congressional investigators.
Mr. Nussle said yesterday that the votes to support his budget resolution "aren't there yet," but he expects enough support before the scheduled floor action by April 11.
"A week ago, we had a lot of people around here who didn't have the stomach for a lot of things," Mr. Nussle said. "Bold leadership" will get the budget through, he said.
Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he is encouraged that more "fellow moderates" didn't visit Mr. Hastert's office on Wednesday.
"When we had our conference," Mr. Shays said, "we could at least fit the people who objected into one room. That's a start. Frankly, the number is smaller than it could have been."
Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican and member of the House Budget Committee, said the current version of the budget already represents a "reasonable compromise that the party can rally around."
"If [moderates] increase spending, that's going to be a major problem for a lot of conservatives," Mr. Toomey said. He pointed out that the budget has a good chance to survive as is because Mr. Shays is on board and "did a great job of defending the budget."
The Senate Budget Committee was close to finishing its version of the 2004 budget last night, which would also include all of Mr. Bush's tax-cut wishes, but not nearly the level of budget cuts.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators has drafted a letter to the Senate leadership of both parties pledging opposition to any tax-cut package that exceeds $350 billion over 10 years essentially cutting the president's plan in half by taking out the elimination of double taxation of stock dividends.
At least nine senators were thought ready to sign the letter, but only four did: Republican Sens. George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and John B. Breaux of Louisiana.
"All signatories to this letter are committed to defeating floor amendments that would reduce or increase this $350 billion amount," the letter said.

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