- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

President Bush is expected to visit the congressional Republicans' annual retreat today in West Virginia amid growing pressure by conservative lawmakers to pass a balanced budget.
"It's the right thing to do as far as fiscal discipline and the right politics," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
The president's budget for fiscal 2003, to be sent to Congress on Monday, includes a deficit of about $80 billion the first budget deficit since 1997.
Conservatives argue that a balanced budget is within reach if Congress is unable to approve a $75 billion bill to stimulate the economy money that the White House is including in its spending plan.
Several conservative Republicans spoke out in favor of the balanced budget proposal yesterday at the retreat at the posh Greenbrier resort, including Mr. DeLay and Reps. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas.
"It was the topic of energetic discussion, but suffice it to say we don't yet have a consensus," Mr. Toomey said. "We're really not far apart from the president at all. He's about $3 billion from being balanced, aside from the stimulus package."
Some Republicans are concerned that Democrats are staking a claim this year as the party of fiscal responsibility. With the White House expected to propose a budget deficit, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has called on Mr. Bush to restore "fiscal discipline" to the process.
Therefore, Republicans say pursuing a balanced budget would be useful politically even if Congress does end up approving deficit spending this year.
"We have to hold that up as a goal at least," said a top House Republican aide. "Philosophically, it is a winner."
Members of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 60 conservatives in the House, are backing a strategy of deficit spending only if the budget includes an economic recovery bill of $60 billion to $75 billion.
"It's acceptable to go into deficits to the extent to pay for a stimulus bill," said Neil Bradley, spokesman for Rep. John Shadegg, the Arizona Republican who leads the group. "If not, then we ought to be balancing the budget."
Mr. Bradley noted that the Democratic-led Senate failed to approve two economic recovery bills late last year.
"As enthusiastic as we are about a stimulus bill, that doesn't mean Daschle is going to do it," Mr. Bradley said.
Alternatively, lawmakers say they could approve an economic bill and essentially use an accounting gimmick to keep the spending "off budget" in a reserve fund so it would not technically count against a deficit.
The balanced budget proposal was raised last week at a retreat of House Republican leaders in St. Michael's, Md. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, has downplayed the idea, saying he doesn't want to get ahead of White House initiatives while the administration is fighting a war.
The budget for fiscal 2003 is expected to include $48 billion more for the Pentagon, and about $38 billion for homeland security. Those two big-ticket items would increase overall discretionary spending by about 9 percent.
"I want to give the president his full defense number," Mr. Toomey said.
"After that, a little bit of belt-tightening is in order. The budget from the White House is going to be within chipping distance [of being balanced]. We can do this."

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