- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

Republicans in the House and Senate return from a two-week recess today to face the arduous task of ironing out differences in budget plans for fiscal 2002 and beyond approved by their chambers earlier this spring.
Conventional wisdom is that much of the money added to the Houses budget by the Senate will be dropped and that the size of a 10-year tax cut will fall somewhere between the $1.2 trillion approved by the Senate and the $1.6 trillion asked for by President Bush and approved by the House.
But while the parameters of a compromise may be clear, getting there will be tough, said some analysts.
"Because the dynamics of this are so delicate, it is going to be very difficult," said Rick E. May, former House Budget Committee chief of staff.
Mr. May said that every move to appease one constituency will alienate another.
House and Senate Budget Committee staffers have been meeting to resolve minor differences in the bills, leaving tougher choices for their chairmen and House and Senate Republican leaders to decide. Still, staffers from both committees predict a compromise could meet a weekend deadline set by Republican leadership.
"If you guys finish by Friday, Ill buy you a steak dinner," Mr. May said he promised the budget committee staff.
Both the House and Senate started with budget proposals that essentially mirrored that offered by the president. But while House Republicans beat back several substitutes proposed during floor debate, Senate Republicans were unable to muster that discipline.
When the dust settled from the Senates debate, discretionary spending proposed for 2002 had increased by 7 percent instead of the 4 percent proposed by the president. The tax cut had been whittled down over 10 years to $1.18 trillion. And mandatory spending on agriculture, special education and Medicare had been increased by nearly $500 billion over the next decade.
During debate, Senate Republican leaders had thought they might simply erase all the Senates revisions in one final "wrap-around" amendment as they did during the budget debate last year. They also considered leaving the proposed spending increases in place while trying to increase the size of the tax cut, perhaps to as much as $1.4 trillion over 10 years. But at the last moment, White House strategists and Senate Republican leaders opted to "punt," in the words of one Senate Republican leadership aide, bringing the bill as it stood to a final 65-35 vote, leaving House and Senate negotiators to hammer out the now substantial differences.
That decision left unresolved exactly how high the tax cut could be and still garner a 50-50 vote that would allow Vice President Richard B. Cheney to break the tie and pass the budget.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, and Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican, last week joined Democrats in asking Republican leaders in the House and Senate "to adhere as closely as possible to the bipartisan compromise proposal which passed the Senate."
The duo, joined by Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, did not say they would not support a bigger tax cut, but they urged Republican leaders "to pursue a strategy that would result in broad, bipartisan support in the House and Senate" rather than "crafting a conference report that may not pass or passes by only one vote."
Ironically, Mr. May said, the letter may make compromise harder as conservatives feel compelled to counter by requesting even deeper tax cuts. "And suddenly you have gotten into a duel," Mr. May said.
But some Democrats predict that Republicans may pull together quickly.
Tom Kahn, Democratic staff director for the House Budget Committee, said party pressure to stick with Mr. Bush in his first budget will assure cohesion.
A Senate aide said that cohesion will hold so long as those on the appropriations committees are assured they will not have to stick with the 4 percent spending increase Mr. Bush is proposing.
A Senate Republican aide agreed, saying the budget is more likely to come out of a House-Senate conference with growth for discretionary spending at 5 percent to 6 percent, splitting the difference between Mr. Bushs plan and the measure passed by the Senate.


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