- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

House Democrats said yesterday that if Congress is serious about reducing the deficit, they should create rules making it harder to pass tax cuts without offsetting costs — an idea some Republicans support.

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland stood with fellow Democrats in front of a giant, red balloon and said the House Republican 2005 budget, which heads to a floor vote next week, “will only inflate the ballooning Bush deficit.”

A key part of the solution, the Democrats said, is for Congress to approve “pay-as-you-go” rules that would make it much more difficult for Congress to approve new spending increases or tax cuts without completely offsetting or paying for them.

Some middle-of-the-road Republicans, such as Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, agree with this thinking, but most House Republicans and their leaders don’t and will allow a proposal that applies these rules only to spending, not tax cuts.

Mr. Hoyer said applying the rules to spending but not tax cuts is a “half measure” that is the equivalent of “a bird trying to fly with one wing.”

“You’ve got to watch both your spending and revenue side,” said Mr. Castle, who would like to see the pay-as-you-go rules apply “at least for new tax cuts,” and perhaps even for extending the Bush tax cuts that passed in 2001 and 2003.

Rep. Doug Ose, a California Republican, said “a number of members” agree with Mr. Castle. Mr. Ose is not one of them though, because he is “sick of paying taxes” and doesn’t want to create barriers to approving more tax relief.

Last week, the Senate voted 51-48, with the support of three Republicans, on an amendment to apply the pay-as-you-go rules to tax cuts as well as mandatory spending. It was added to the Senate’s fiscal 2005 budget.

House Republican leaders, at the insistence of deficit-wary members of their party, have allowed a bill that would cap discretionary spending for five years and apply the pay-as-you-go rules to mandatory spending, but not to tax cuts. This bill was approved 24-18 by the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, before the panel approved its separate 2005 budget proposal by a 24-19 vote.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, estimated that about 20 percent of Republicans would like to apply the payment rules to taxes as well as spending, while 80 percent oppose applying them to tax relief. Mr. Kirk is pushing a compromise bill that, among other things, would require Congress to pay for future tax cuts other than the $153 billion in tax relief for the next five years that is assumed in the House’s current budget plan.

Even though there is disagreement over the tax-cut issue, there is a widespread push among rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats to have some sort of budget process reform bill that forces Congress to be fiscally responsible and stick to their budgets.

Conservatives, such as Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, said the budget-enforcement bill approved by the budget panel this week “is a step in the right direction,” though more needs to be done, such as giving budget proposals the force of law, capping mandatory as well as discretionary spending, and giving the president the power to force Congress to vote on stripping funding from wasteful programs.

Mr. Ose said many Republicans want the House to vote on a budget-enforcement bill at the same time that they vote on the 2005 budget proposal next week. But that seemed unlikely, as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he has “no idea” when such a budget enforcement bill would come to a floor vote.

“I think this issue needs to ripen a bit,” he said yesterday.

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