- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

With November's elections having returned control in the Senate to Republicans and increased the GOP's majority in the House, Congress is poised to accomplish one its most important functions this year. It will pass a budget resolution.
Congress failed to perform this basic function last year because the Democratic-controlled Senate, for the first time since the modern budget process was established by the 1974 budget reform bill, failed to pass its own budget resolution. The absence of a Senate resolution made it impossible to convene the traditional budget conference committee, where the House and Senate resolve their differences and generate a unified resolution establishing spending targets for about 20 categories, ranging from national defense to health and transportation.
Last week, the Senate and House budget committees approved resolutions, each of which will now be debated on the floor of its respective body. President Bush's 10-year, $726 billion economic stimulus and growth package survived party-line votes in both committees.
The House will likely ratify the work of its budget committee with few substantive changes. Using a parliamentary procedure that would enable the Senate to pass the package with 51 votes rather than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, the House budget resolution requires its Ways and Means Committee to approve the president's $726 billion growth package by April 11.
Nevertheless, major problems have arisen in the more closely divided Senate, where 51 Republicans maintain a razor-thin majority. As the resolution was making its way through the Senate Budget Committee, four pivotal senators Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio and Democrats Max Baucus of Montana and John Breaux of Louisiana signed a letter declaring they would not approve a 10-year growth package larger than $350 billion. Meanwhile, other Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Susan Collins of Maine, have also balked at the price tag of the president's growth package, further jeopardizing it enactment in full.
Predictably, the wavering Republican senators point to the growing budget deficit as a major factor for their reluctance to support the president's full package. But, one of the lessons learned from the budget wars of the 1980s and 1990s is that the best way to eliminate red ink is to reduce the growth rate of non-essential federal spending and accelerate the growth rate of the economy. Even if tax relief causes the deficit to rise in the short run, the revenue streams that are subsequently generated by a robustly growing economy will, as they have in the past, more than compensate over the longer term. Moreover, as the recent past has clearly demonstrated, an economy growing significantly below its potential rate will suffer a sharp deceleration in tax revenues. And a contracting economy will ensure that revenues will actually decline, even as safety-net spending rises. Growth-oriented tax relief, such as the president has proposed, is the best way to prevent that budget-busting dilemma from developing.

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