- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

A group of conservative House Republicans yesterday stepped up their call for a balanced budget in the wake of the Senate's rejection of President Bush's economic recovery plan.
"We should assure the money set aside for stimulus not be used to increase federal spending," said Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. "Congress must be willing to show some fiscal restraint."
Mr. Bush budgeted $77 billion in fiscal 2003 for a plan to create jobs and help the unemployed. But the Democrat-led Senate on Wednesday killed any hope of approving a large-scale plan, freeing up that potential pool of money for other purposes.
The White House's budget calls for a deficit of $80 billion. Without the money set aside for an economic recovery bill, conservatives say, Congress would need to trim only about $3 billion to achieve a balanced budget.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, supports that effort, and the group is attracting more centrist Republicans to their side.
"We ought to set the standard," said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican. "I believe the idea of a balanced budget is absolutely critical."
Congress would need to control its own appetite for pork-barrel spending if lawmakers have any chance of balancing the budget. The amount they are seeking to trim from the president's budget, $3 billion, represents 20 percent of the $15 billion in pork projects known as "earmarks" that lawmakers approved for their home districts in fiscal 2002.
Some Republicans still are eyeing portions of the economic recovery package that have failed, such as bonus depreciation for small businesses and tax credits for health insurance.
The Senate this week did approve extending unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, to 39 weeks, for about 2 million laid-off workers. The measure now goes to the House, where Republican leaders have yet to decide how to handle it.
One option is to send it to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, has suggested he might try to add health care benefits and tax relief for businesses to any package.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, has said he believes Congress will make another attempt at approving bonus depreciation for business investments.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, wrote to Mr. Bush yesterday urging him to lobby House Republicans "not to weigh down the unemployment insurance extension with unrelated amendments, and to act on it immediately."

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