- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Senate Budget Committee yesterday voted 12-10 along party lines to approve a stringent spending control bill that would require Congress to achieve a nearly balanced budget by 2012, but Republican leadership aides said the legislation faces a tough uphill battle in the full Senate.

The bill would reinstate spending disciplines, including caps on non-entitlement programs, that helped balance the budget in the 1980s and 1990s. It would require the White House to order across-the-board spending cuts in every program but Social Security if Congress did not achieve the deficit-reduction goals.

The committee rejected an amendment by Democrats that would have reinstated required offsets to tax cuts and new spending programs, though former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other budget analysts said the policy helped Congress take control over the deficit in the 1990s.

Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and author of the bill, acceded to another Democratic proposal to modify a key mechanism designed to force Congress to vote on reforms of fast-growing entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The change would require 60 votes in the Senate, rather than a simple majority of 51, for approval of any entitlement reforms recommended by a bipartisan commission to be set up under the legislation. Committee Republicans upheld a requirement that Congress vote on the commission’s proposed spending cuts under expedited procedures.

“Congress is not making tough choices because the system is broken,” said Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican, noting that Congress fought hard last year to produce a modest entitlement-reform bill with $39 billion in savings — a fraction of what would be needed to eliminate deficits averaging more than $300 billion a year.

“We’d have the tools to get past the procedural hurdles” that have prevented Republicans in Congress from gaining control over spending, he said. “This bill gives us a chance to have some fiscal restraint.”

Democrats said Republicans were abdicating their responsibility to get the budget under control and trying to “outsource” that job to an unelected commission, while trying to jury-rig legislative procedures to ensure passage of unpopular Republican proposals such as the partial privatization of Social Security and deep cuts in health care and veterans programs.

“Republicans have rejected the one device that proved successful at reducing the deficit” between 1991 and 2000, said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and author of the Democratic alternative. Meanwhile, they have corrupted a budget process that was designed to reduce deficits in order to pass tax-cutting bills that have added $1.7 trillion to the deficit since 2001, he said.

A Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, may have trouble getting agreement to bring up a bill with such broad provisions on the Senate floor next month without raising objections from both Republican and Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Frist may break the bill into smaller increments that have better chances of passing, including one providing the president with authority to veto individual items in tax and spending bills.

Mr. Gregg and Mr. Conrad also said they were working to cobble together a bipartisan bill that would include seven or eight items on which both parties could agree.

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