GOP House members rebel over deficit

Budget panel delays its version of budget over spending caps

March 13, 2004|By Mary Curtius | Mary Curtius,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A revolt by party members worried about record deficits has delayed for at least a week the Republican leadership's plan to produce a House budget for fiscal 2005 that would marry with the budget passed early yesterday morning by the Senate.

There is plenty of disagreement among Republicans about how to reduce deficits - with some budget hawks arguing for stringent spending caps so that taxes can be cut further and others opposing more tax cuts.

But the two groups joined forces Thursday to issue an ultimatum to Rep. Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee. They threatened to vote against the proposal he drafted unless a separate bill enforcing spending caps comes to the floor at the same time.

Nussle bowed to the pressure, pushing to next week a scheduled committee session to work on the budget. That will make it hard for the Republican leadership to have the budget ready for conference negotiations with the Senate by week's end, as they had planned.

The dust-up underscored growing unease over what is seen as an election-year liability - a deficit that the Congressional Budget Office predicts will be a record $477 billion this year.

Tax cuts in trouble

The angst among Republicans over the red ink makes it increasingly unlikely that there will be any new tax cuts this year, or that President Bush will see all the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 made permanent.

The budget passed by the Senate would extend about $81 billion in previously enacted tax cuts that are due to expire by year's end, but that is $100 billion less than Bush had sought.

The budget proposed by the House would come closer to the president's request - at $138 billion in tax cuts over the next five years. Democrats have called that excessive.

Congressional budgets, although largely nonbinding, set the broad guidelines for revenue and spending for the coming year.

Democrats were delighted at the seeming dissension among Republicans over deficits and what to do about them.

`Trapped in a box'

"House Republicans are trapped in a budget box of their own creation, and they have no one to blame but themselves," House Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in a statement yesterday. "They are absolutely riven with internal conflict."

Their intra-party squabbling burst into the open this week when the Budget Committee's markup of the budget resolution was stopped in its tracks.

Some budget watchdog groups said they were unimpressed by congressional hand-wringing over deficits this year.

"The dynamic of it is that nobody likes deficits - and nobody wants to do anything about them, because they involve things like raising taxes or cutting spending," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an independent watchdog group. "Particularly in an election year. ... So you have these phony debates where people pretend they can do things they can't."

Senate Republicans defeated a blizzard of Democratic amendments before finally passing their $2.36 trillion budget. The Democrats had sought increases in spending for homeland security and a variety of increased domestic programs.

The 51-45 vote for final passage went mostly along party lines.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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