- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

The House passed a $1.98 trillion budget framework for fiscal 2002 yesterday on a mostly party-line vote.
The measure, based largely on the plans outlined earlier this month by President Bush, includes an 11-year, $1.64 trillion tax cut.
The budget plan, which gives Congress broad instructions on the spending and tax priorities for the year but is not signed by the president, next heads to the Senate, where it faces a less certain future.
"Today's a big day… . [This] is a common-sense budget, one that meets priorities, one that grows discretionary spending by 4 percent," Mr. Bush said at a White House meeting with Republican leaders. "It's also a budget that recognizes that this nation needs a tax-relief package to stimulate our economy."
"I am delighted," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, told reporters after the 222-205 vote for the budget, which in addition to the tax cut proposes substantial increases in spending on education, medical research and defense.
"The choice is between two visions," Mr. Armey said. "A vision of bigger and bigger government, a choice between larger and larger taxes, or a choice of smaller government that trusts the people."
The House, which has already begun passing portions of the tax cut, will take up legislation today that provides $400 billion in tax breaks to married couples, while the House's tax-writing committee will take up a $192 billion plan to repeal the estate tax.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, warned that the budget "threatens to bring back the high deficits and high interest rates that we saw at the end of the first Bush administration. Why would you want to repeat that mistake?"
He and other Democrats said the plan is based upon flimsy economic assumptions, gives Republicans unfettered authority to rewrite the plan this summer, and funds a tax cut at the expense of key priorities.
Two Republicans, Ron Paul of Texas and Joel Hefley of Colorado, voted against their party's plan. Three Democrats, Ralph M. Hall of Texas, James A. Traficant Jr. of Ohio and Gary A. Condit of California, voted for the bill.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said yesterday that "It's going to be a very difficult job" to pass the budget plan.
A Senate Republican leadership aide said efforts to "grow the vote" and assure the budget's passage have been a "delicate process" but that Senate Republican leaders are confident and now are focusing on "a mere handful" of senators.
"Yes. Absolutely," said Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma, when asked whether Republicans could pass a budget.
Centrist Democrats, such as Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, hope to craft a compromise bill but have yet to win support from the Republican leadership.
Conversely, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday he is "quite confident" no Democrats will vote for Mr. Bush's budget.
The House-passed budget framework would allow spending on discretionary programs to increase 4 percent from 2001 to 2002. Those programs, which include defense, transportation and education, would be held to 2.7 percent annual growth from 2002 through 2011.
Democrats have said that 4 percent cap means that proposed increases in a few areas will require cuts to other programs. One Democratic analysis says spending in fiscal 2002 on programs other than defense, education and the National Institutes of Health will decline by 6.6 percent after adjusting for inflation.
A Republican aide said party appropriators had reached a similar conclusion, but "we just aren't talking about it."
Still, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, voted for the plan, noting that it provides $60 billion more in funding than the budget Republicans passed last year.
Rep. Bob Stump, Arizona Republican, said the $325 billion proposed for defense in 2002 should be "viewed only as a placeholder pending review."
Under the budget resolution, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, would have the authority to allocate up to $36 billion more for fiscal 2002 bringing total discretionary spending to $697 billion for defense, agriculture or "other appropriate legislation."
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, Texas Republican, called the "innovative feature" a key to his support for the measure.
A House Republican said that emergency and supplemental spending for defense and agriculture would not be counted against Mr. Bush's 4 percent spending increase cap and thus provide more room for spending on other programs.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, disagreed.
"Four percent total. Period. That's it," Mr. DeLay said, adding that Mr. Bush had made that point clear at a meeting yesterday at the White House.
Mr. DeLay said if people wanted more money for other programs it would have to be found elsewhere. That means either taking back money previously appropriated but not yet spent, or perhaps eliminating some programs, Mr. DeLay said.
The budget plan also proposes paying down $2.3 trillion in public debt over the next decade and spending about $153 billion of surpluses generated by Medicare to provide a prescription drug benefit for the elderly.
Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, called the Medicare proposal a shell game.
He said Republicans are claiming that $526 billion in Medicare surpluses will be used to pay for future Medicare benefits, for the new prescription drug benefit, and to pay down the public debt.
"You cannot have that bean under all three shells," Mr. McDermott said.
Mr. DeLay countered by calling the Democratic alternative a "beguiling mirage." He said the Democratic plan promises tax cuts and fiscal restraint, but continues to sustain big government while giving taxpayers "paltry relief."
In contrast, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected today to pass on a party-line vote legislation that would repeal the estate and gift tax over the next decade. That measure, which would save taxpayers $192 billion, would bring to $1.5 trillion the tax cuts the committee has approved this year.
In addition to repealing the estate tax, the legislation would allow beneficiaries to avoid taxes on up to $4.3 million in capital gains on inherited assets.

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