- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A bipartisan coalition of senators say they have the power to kill any budget resolution that does not cut President Bush's $726 billion economic-stimulus package in half.
Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said any tax-cut package that greatly exceeds $350 billion will not win the support of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who hold the key votes in a Senate with a one-seat Republican majority.
"I don't think $700 billion will fly," Mr. Baucus said. "If the [Senate] Budget Committee reports out the president's package, I don't think that will pass."
That, however, is what the House is likely to do.
Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that tomorrow he will mark up a $2.3 trillion budget for 2004 that makes permanent the $1.3 trillion tax cut of 2001, includes the president's $726 billion, 10-year-growth package, and provides a $400 billion prescription-drug benefit. The 10-year budget plan from the House will be balanced in seven years.
"In order to get to balance, we have to look at the spending side of the ledger," Mr. Nussle said. "We can't just assume we'll grow ourselves out of deficit."
Mr. Nussle said he will urge House appropriators to "look in every corner of the federal government" to find savings that will bring the budget into balance.
Every program even mandatory spending areas like Medicare will be open for cuts, he said, with the exception of homeland defense, Social Security and military spending.
Getting the Senate to go along with the House plan likely will prove difficult. Mr. Baucus pledged to fight for a tax cut of no bigger than $350 billion "all the way to the conference committee, through reconciliation" with the House.
For the past two weeks, at least nine senators have attended meetings in the office of Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, to come up with a smaller alternative ceiling to the tax cuts in the 2004 budget. Along with Mr. Baucus, they include Republican Sens. Robert F. Bennett of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and George V. Voinovich of Ohio, and Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Dianne Feinstein of California.
Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is expected to finish his budget next week. He has "a lot of things in the works" to thwart the demand for a smaller growth package and pass a budget that reflects the president's agenda. One way will be for Mr. Nickles to remind Democrats that all their additional spending proposals increase the deficit, too.
"I'm concerned about the idea of cutting the growth package in half, supposedly with the idea that [Democrats] want to reduce deficits," Mr. Nickles said. "They might be successful in reducing the growth package, but they might not be successful in reducing the deficit."
Complicating matters further is a plan by Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, to offer an amendment next week freezing all tax cuts and additional spending "until we know the costs of the war [in Iraq] and the aftermath."
"How in the world can we agree to a budget if we're going to be off by hundreds of billions of dollars because of the war?" Mr. Conrad said yesterday.

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