Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

House, Senate budget writers offer deficit cures

March 13, 2003

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— The House Budget Committee neared approval Wednesday of a Republican plan for balancing the budget in seven years by slicing domestic spending far more deeply than President Bush has proposed.

The GOP-run Senate Budget Committee began debating a slightly less ambitious blueprint that would end federal deficits in 10 years, with passage expected today. Both packages envision far more aggressive attacks on huge projected federal shortfalls than Bush sought.

The House and Senate plans would make passage of the president's proposed $726 billion tax-cutting economic growth package a priority, giving an important boost to a plan that featured elimination of the tax on corporate dividends. The rest of the $1.57 trillion in new tax reductions through 2013 that Bush has proposed would be unlikely to be enacted this year.

Both committees' proposals underscored a desire among Republican lawmakers to be seen as taking the initiative against surging federal red ink. The House's proposed spending savings were so assertive that some Republicans said they went too far, and changes to ensure passage next week by the full House were possible.

The House plan would require lawmakers to find $470 billion worth of savings in the next decade in unspecified benefit programs that were all but certain to include Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health insurance programs for the elderly and poor. The Senate version would require no such savings.

"I will not pretend that deficits don't matter," declared House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa.

Democrats derided Republicans for budgets that ignore the costs of a possible war with Iraq, which analysts have said could exceed $100 billion. They also criticized the GOP for trying to advance big tax cuts at a time of massive deficits while curtailing spending for a broad range of domestic programs -- cuts the Democrats predicted would not come about.

"If Republicans are serious about enacting these draconian cuts, they will be balancing their tax cuts on the backs of working families," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

The deficit-cutting plans were included in $2.2 trillion budgets for 2004 written by Nussle and his counterpart, Senate Budget Committees Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla.

Congress' budget is a guide that sets tax and spending targets, but leaves decisions about details for later legislation.

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