A top House Democrat yesterday predicted seven years of budget deficits, and called on President Bush to convene a summit like the one in which his father broke his “no new taxes” pledge in 1990.
“His father in 1990 was in a recession,” said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “And what did he do? He agreed to a budget summit negotiation, which laid the basis for the surpluses his son inherited eight years later.”
Reminded by a reporter that when Mr. Bush’s father agreed to a tax increase it contributed to his defeat in 1992, Mr. Spratt replied, “But his dad did the right thing. We did the right thing in 1993 [by raising taxes] and we lost control of the Congress, too.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed the Democrat’s proposal, saying Mr. Bush wants Congress to give his first budget “fair consideration.”
“The president believes that the process that Congress has, with the House and Senate committees taking up the budget is the best process,” Mr. Fleischer said.
The White House is preparing to submit its budget to Congress Feb. 4, and Mr. Bush has said the recession and the war on terrorism may result in a need to return to deficit spending.
Mr. Bush vowed last week that Congress would raise taxes only “over my dead body.”
But congressional Democrats seem intent on pressuring Mr. Bush to propose a tax increase, or a rollback of the $1.35 trillion tax cut that Congress approved in June. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, last week called on Mr. Bush to return to the “fiscal discipline” of 1993, when the Clinton administration pushed through the largest tax increase in American history.
Mr. Fleischer turned around that equation yesterday, indicating this year is the first time in many years that congressional Democrats will be responsible for writing a budget with a bottom line.
“It will be very interesting to see, given the Senate’s new control, what the 50 senators in the Democratic Party in the Senate will be able to come up with,” Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Spratt said Democrats on his budget committee are forecasting budget deficits for the next seven years, meaning the government would need to borrow from Social Security and Medicare to pay for government operations.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to release new projections this month showing that the surplus for fiscal 2002 has vanished and that a deficit may reach several billion dollars. On top of that, the administration and Congress are expected to add at least $15 billion in new spending on homeland security and even more for the Pentagon in fiscal 2003.
Mr. Bush said yesterday at the Pentagon that he hopes Congress will work with him on the budget “with the priorities of winning this war and defending our homeland.”
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress estimate that the surplus through 2011 probably will total about $1.8 trillion about one-third of the $5.6 trillion forecast one year ago. Democrats blame the administration’s tax cut, but Republicans say the recession and wartime spending are responsible for drying up most of the anticipated surplus.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, said the CBO’s analysis will show that the government can return to surpluses in 2004 if Congress controls spending.
“The way to control the budget is to control spending,” Mr. Nussle said. “It’s troubling that some people are still calling for tax increases in this time of recession.”