- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

The battle over the fiscal 2003 budget begins in earnest this week in the House, where Republicans on the Budget Committee will defend a proposal that looks very much like the $2.1 trillion plan President Bush submitted last month.
Republicans will present their budget in committee tomorrow and expect to pass it that day. It is scheduled for a vote on the House floor next week.
The public relations battle begins today, with a planned floor speech by Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who will talk about Social Security and the budget. Democrats are hoping to use the message of protecting Social Security during this year's election season. They will point out that Mr. Bush's budget uses revenue meant for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Countering that argument and reassuring elderly voters will be a prime task for the Republicans.
"Regardless of whether there is a Social Security surplus, there's absolutely no danger that seniors who are currently receiving Social Security, or close to it, will be without benefits," said Brenna Hapes, a spokeswoman for Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican.
Republicans will hold a news conference today to tout their homeland security and defense budget priorities and to challenge Democrats to specify where they would cut.
"[Senate Majority Leader Tom] Daschle in his interviews seems to have ruled out tax increases. They are very reticent for any domestic spending to be cut, and have basically ruled that out. The only thing left to go after, that they have left the door open for, is homeland security and defense funding the president has asked for," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "We want to make sure we protect those funds first."
Several Republican aides said they expect the House budget to look "extremely similar" to the president's budget.
Both Republican leaders in the House and Democratic leaders in the Senate are striving to produce a balanced budget for fiscal 2003, which begins Oct. 1, though both plans would use the trust fund money.
Even including trust fund money, the president's proposed budget would run a deficit of $121 billion in 2003, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Democrats are waiting before making their amendments public, said a spokesman for Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee.
In addition to Social Security, the environment and education are expected to get special attention.
One area on which there is general agreement is the restoration of transportation money. The Bush budget calls for a decrease, blaming a formula written into law that depends on gas-tax revenue.


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