- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Leaders of the House and Senate budget committees announced yesterday the first bipartisan agreement on criteria for an economic recovery package to deal with the effects of the terrorist attacks on America.

"This has been an extraordinary effort," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Congress must act to restore the nation's confidence with an economic stimulus plan, but "I personally believe this is building confidence further just by us being here together."

The agreement comes as rank-and-file members from both parties begin to show signs of discontent, threatening the bipartisanship Congress has presented since the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Mr. Conrad and Mr. Domenici were joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, and Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and ranking member of the Budget Committee.

Their goal, the group said in a five-page document, is "to ensure that the resources provided [will] be an effective economic stimulus package that does not erode fiscal discipline in the future."

The group agreed that any economic stimulus plan should be at least $60 billion, should take effect as soon as possible, and should last just one year.

They agreed that the package should be targeted toward individuals most likely to spend "additional after-tax income and at businesses most likely to increase investment spending and employment."

They also said that the cost of the plan should be offset over the next decade to put the government back on the path to paying off its accumulated debt.

"We will be challenged by those who do not want us to be doing this, but if not us, then who?" Mr. Domenici said.

The agreement is not binding, but it represents a change from the bitter partisan fights held among the same foursome just this spring.

The lawmakers and their staff said several points made in the document were raised not to constrain the opposing party, but to help quell what they consider to be unreasonable or inappropriate requests from within their own party.

For example, it has been Republicans who have publicly opposed expanded unemployment benefits for airline employees. But according to one Democratic aide, the two Democrats readily agreed to the principle that economic stimulus should not be industry-specific.

Similarly, while conservative Republicans have insisted that tax cuts in the economic stimulus package be permanent, Mr. Domenici and Mr. Nussle were the ones to defend the principle that the stimulus package should be temporary.

Those on the tax-writing committee who have begun the work of drafting an economic stimulus bill have sounded similar themes, but did not endorse the Budget Committee leaders' principles.

They were, however, effusive in praising the group for reaching a consensus on revised budget projections for the next year. Tax writers said the new estimates will help them understand exactly what they can afford to do.

The estimates predict a $52 billion surplus in fiscal 2002, down from a previous projection of $176 billion, and that is before the $60 billion economic stimulus plan Congress is considering.

Those projections also show the government under current policies borrowing Social Security payroll taxes for general government expenditures at least through 2006.

While some of the downward revision in budget outlook comes from the stagnant economy, most of it stems from the extra money Congress has spent to clean up and respond to the attacks.

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