- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

The Senate Budget Committee yesterday passed a 10-year plan that calls for more spending on health care, education and highway building than President Bush's proposal, but rejects his call for further tax cuts.
The panel approved the budget, which sets spending priorities for fiscal 2003 and projects spending for the next decade, on a 12-10 party-line vote.
Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said last year's tax cut ties his hands and the $2.1 trillion budget for next year, which spends all of the Social Security trust fund revenue and still projects a $92 billion deficit, was the best the committee could do. Even so, he said, his budget spends on critical needs and still pays down the debt more than the president's over the next 10 years.
"We've been able to do that and still have more debt pay-down because we did not adopt the president's suggestion for $600 billion more tax cuts," he said.
The Senate budget would reinstitute the so-called "marriage penalty" and the inheritance tax and cut in half the child tax credit in 2011. That would mean in 2010 parents could claim a $1,000 tax credit per eligible child, but only $500 in 2011.
Republicans offered an amendment yesterday to make the tax credit permanent, but the committee rejected that on a party-line 12-10 vote, with Democrats saying it would have forced cuts in education and defense. Instead, the committee unanimously approved a nonbinding request that the Senate Finance Committee consider making the cut permanent.
Republicans also charged that the budget plays tricks with the president's 10-year request for defense spending. The budget fully funds the president's requests for fiscal 2003 and 2004, but after that it would put some of the money each year into a "reserve fund." If the money is needed for defense, it would be allocated; but if not, the funds would go to debt reduction.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said Democrats are double-counting the money by championing it for both defense and debt.
But Mr. Conrad said the money remains available if needed. "It is 100 percent available to the president," he said.
The budget will go to the Senate floor after the Easter recess. If it passes, Democrats will have to try to reconcile it with the Republican-backed budget the full House passed Wednesday night by a mostly party-line vote.
The House plan, which tracks the president's proposals much more closely than the Senate plan, would produce a $46 billion deficit in 2003. But the House plan was written with more optimistic numbers produced by the Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget, rather than the Congressional Budget Office, which the Senate used.
The Senate's and administration's plans project spending through the next decade, but the House budget covers only five years, which meant House members didn't have to find a way to address the expiring tax cuts.
On health care spending, the Senate budget sets aside $500 billion over the next decade to cover a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare, expanding health care coverage and increases for health care providers. The president called for $258 billion for a drug benefit, while the House budget calls for $350 billion for a drug benefit and Medicare overhaul.
The Senate budget includes $28.9 billion in 2003 for highway spending $5.7 billion more than the president's proposal and $1.3 billion more than the House included.
And the Senate budget called for $3.5 billion in grants to states and localities for law enforcement programs such as the COPS community-policing effort in 2003, while the president called for $2.1 billion.


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