- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

Republicans beat back several Democratic amendments that would have thwarted President Bush's economic agenda as the House Budget Committee worked late into the night to clear a $2.2 trillion budget for 2004.

Meanwhile, the Senate took a more leisurely approach to marking up a budget resolution, convening a Budget Committee hearing yesterday afternoon to present the budget and give opening statements. The panel has scheduled a daylong hearing today for Democratic amendments.

Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, presented a 10-year budget that leaves room for $1.4 trillion in tax cuts sought by the president. The proposal includes Mr. Bush's $726 billion economic-growth package and seeks to make permanent the 2001 tax cut. The budget also has space for up to an additional $50 billion for further tax cuts Congress might want.

The Republican budget includes $400 billion over 10 years for a new prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare and an average of 3 percent increases in defense and homeland-security spending. While the budget projects a deficit of $323.7 billion next year, the deficits are expected to rapidly decline until the budget runs a $5.6 billion surplus in 2010.

The eventual return to balanced budgets, Mr. Nussle said, will occur because of economic recovery generated by the tax cuts, and an average of a 1 percent cut across the board for every budget item except defense, homeland security, Social Security and unemployment insurance. Most of the savings can be found by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse," Mr. Nussle said.

"We are asking Washington to tighten its belt," he said. "All we're asking for is 1 percent. Sometimes, we have to get by with a little less."

Neither the House nor Senate budgets include the costs of a possible war with Iraq, which is estimated to cost from $60 billion to $100 billion, according to some senators.

Democrats on the House Budget Committee offered 43 amendments to the budget resolution yesterday, two of which would eliminate most of the tax cuts. Most of the rest of the amendments would increase spending, including adding $200 billion to the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, and billions more for education and veterans programs.

Democrats also attacked the Republican budget for causing what they predict are "massive" cuts in social spending and a ballooning of the deficit.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, predicted the tax cuts would eventually pass, but the corresponding spending cuts would never materialize.

"You're eating your dessert before you eat your veggies, Mr. Chairman," Mr. Spratt said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Mr. Nussle's budget "would have made even Newt Gingrich blush," referring to the conservative Republican former speaker of the House.

"Even Gingrich wouldn't have dared to reward wealthy investors at a time of recession and war while asking the rest of America for painful sacrifice," Mr. Daschle said.

Few on Capitol Hill believe that the final 2004 budget will look much like what the House Budget Committee envisions. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate have said they won't support a budget that contains more than $350 billion in tax cuts.

Nonetheless, Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, presented a $2.2 trillion budget yesterday that asks for $698 billion in tax relief over 10 years. The Senate budget doesn't show surpluses until 2012.

"I think those [tax cuts] are a sound idea that will grow the economy," Mr. Nickles said.

The deficit, Mr. Nickles said, is a result of a historic two-year reduction in federal revenues accompanied by continued increases in spending. Democrats have blamed the deficit mostly on Mr. Bush's tax cuts.

Republicans, however, say that most of the president's tax cuts have not yet taken effect.

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