- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Congressional Democrats have pointed for weeks to the return of budget deficits to combat Republican support for President Bush's nearly $700 billion economic-stimulus plan.
They now have a fresh and more tangible debating point: the impending need to raise the national debt ceiling.
Since December, the Treasury Department has pushed Congress to increase the $6.4 trillion debt limit, but no legislation to raise it has been offered. On Feb. 19, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said in a letter to congressional leaders that he was no longer able to "fully invest" in the federal employee retirement system and avoid exceeding the limit.
While pointing out that such an accounting maneuver was taken by his predecessors last year and in 1995, Mr. Snow urged Congress to raise the debt limit to "maintain the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, especially at this critical time."
Democrats see that letter as a political opportunity to argue against tax cuts, which House Republicans have hinted could grow to as much as $1 trillion by the time it moves through the House Ways and Means Committee later this month.
"We are going to hold the Republicans' feet to the fire on raising the debt limit," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "It is directly related to their mismanagement of the country's budget and the economy, which has created huge deficits that will burden our children with a 'debt tax.'"
Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, indicated he is not inclined to raise the debt limit before it is typically done as part of the budget process. The so-called "Gephardt Rule," used by Republicans and Democrats alike, includes an automatic increase of the debt ceiling, if necessary, on the budget resolution.
Republicans say Democrats are trying to make a political issue of nothing.
"We don't have to [raise the debt limit] separately," said a Republican staffer for the House Budget Committee. "Look, the government hasn't shut down yet. Treasury has mechanisms to move things around. These are folks [Democrats] who ran deficits forever. Now they want to look like deficit hawks. It's comical."
Democrats, however, point to Mr. Bush's State of the Union address, in which he said he would not "pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations."
"The president and the Republicans really need to reconcile that statement," said David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. "The nation is in deficit. We have growing needs in terms of health care, job training, potentially a war. He said he is not going to pass on problems to future generations, but not only is he not asking people to sacrifice, he's trying to shower his rich friends" with a tax cut.
Republicans counter that the debt limit would have to be raised no matter who was in charge of Congress because of a slowing economy. And Democrats, who have yet to produce an alternative to the Republican budget, would spend at least as much on new programs as Republicans embrace for tax cuts.
"What can they do? They want to be deficit hawks, but they want to bust the bank with all their spending plans," a House Republican aide said. "They're really in a pickle."
A Democratic staffer on the House Budget Committee said Democrats are still huddling about producing an alternative budget and that it is still not clear whether one is forthcoming.

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