Budget Clears Two More Hurdles

The bipartisan budget agreement survived two more legislative hurdles Monday night, as the House Rules Committee sent the measure to the floor and the Senate Budget Committee fought off several attempts to alter the deal and finally approved it intact.

The Senate panel approved the budget resolution 17-4, after approving several Sense of the Senate amendments. Voting against the deal were Republican Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas and Rod Grams of Minnesota and Democratic Sens. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.

The budget resolution is likely to go to the floor in both chambers today, with Senate leaders attempting to limit debate to 15 hours. A key Senate Republican aide said Monday night that if the resolutions remain unchanged from the way they were approved by the House and Senate budget panels, there may be no need for a House-Senate conference committee.

Opening the discussion Monday, Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told senators the agreement is "not a Republican budget. It is not a Democrat budget. It is not a presidential budget." Domenici said the deal represents a response to voters who called on both parties to work together.

Budget panel ranking member Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said, "While no one should see this as a perfect agreement, everyone should see it as a good agreement." However, Hollings said the resolution is not balanced, since it uses Social Security and other pension trust funds to help balance the budget. The panel defeated on voice vote a Hollings plan to eliminate spending increases and tax cuts in an attempt to balance the budget without use of the trust funds.

Grams said he would oppose the resolution for other reasons, saying that the size of the federal government will not shrink, that Medicare will not be reformed and that the tax cut is not large enough.

However, Sarbanes said it is "irresponsible" to have any tax cut before the budget is balanced.

The committee approved, 17-4, an amendment by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., to direct the Senate and president to continue work on entitlement reform and to find an accurate Consumer Price Index measurement.

The panel also defeated a plan by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to allow defense cuts to be used for domestic spending and to decrease defense spending.

And the committee rejected, 11-10, a Sense of the Senate amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to ensure that early childhood education be adequately funded.

Lautenberg, who was one of the budget negotiators, voted against the amendment.

The committee also defeated a proposal by Sen. Don Nickles, R- Okla., to ensure that the children's health initiative be a discretionary, not a mandatory program.

Domenici said that program was vital to the budget deal.

On the House side, five substitute budget resolutions, including substitutes fashioned by the Congressional Black Caucus, the House Conservative Action Team and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., will be debated on the floor today under the rule adopted Monday night.

The rule calls for five hours of general debate to be divided equally between House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, and ranking member John Spratt, D-S.C., plus an additional 20 minutes to be controlled by Rep. David Minge, D-Minn., to discuss the concerns of conservative House Democrats known as the "Blue Dogs" that the budget resolution contain some mechanism to ensure the budget is balanced by 2002 and beyond.

Minge had offered a substitute amendment at Monday's Rules Committee meeting that tacked enforcement mechanisms onto the resolution reported out of the budget committee last week, but it was not ruled in order.

Of the five hours of general debate provided for in the rule, one hour is to be devoted to the subject of economic goals and policies.

In addition, of the two-and-a-half hours allotted to Spratt, he will only take one and intends to make the remaining time available to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., to express another Democratic viewpoint on the budget.

Gephardt is expected to use the time to make his first public statements on the budget resolution.

All of the substitutes would balance the budget by 2002.

The Congressional Black Caucus substitute would do so without tax cuts or Medicaid cuts, reduce defense spending by $189.9 billion, and produce $25.5 billion in Medicare savings.

The CATs substitute would reduce nondefense discretionary spending by $109.3 billion over the amount called for in the budget resolution and would use that money to provide another $109.3 billion in tax cuts, in addition to the $83.1 billion in the budget resolution.

The Shuster substitute would increase transportation program outlays to $137 billion, or $12 billion more than in the budget agreement, and would offset the increase with across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending and tax cuts.

Other substitutes by House Science ranking member George Brown, D-Calif., and Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., would increase discretionary spending on things like economic development, research, transportation, healthcare and education.

Brown's amendment would allow tax cuts only after the budget is balanced, while Kennedy's includes tax cuts for education, small business, and childcare.

In other budget action, Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., released a letter he sent Monday to House Speaker Gingrich explaining his opposition to the budget resolution.

A leading House conservative, Istook called the FY98 budget resolution "a high-risk plan, feasible only if future economic conditions are ideal" and said it represents "Washington at its worst."

Istook called for further negotiations on the balanced budget plan, saying the resolution the House is scheduled to vote on today "spends too much; expands entitlements; fails to address the root problems of entitlements; and fails to provide all of the tax relief being promoted."

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., also announced Monday that he would oppose the budget resolution.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Gingrich said on Monday that President Clinton would have to sign a package of Republican tax cuts into law before he could expect to receive additional money for domestic spending under the balanced budget accord.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Republican leader said his party's aim was to get separate legislation on tax and spending reductions through Congress and onto Clinton's desk by July 4, according to Reuters.

"We have the president's agreement that he will sign the capital gains tax cut, that he'll sign a cut in the death tax, that he'll sign a $500 per child tax credit," Gingrich said. "And all of those will be passed into law before he gets a penny of additional discretionary spending."

Gingrich's comments contradicted expectations last week on Capitol Hill, where congressional aides said Clinton would get the spending bill first, followed by the tax cuts.

Aides said that arrangement would give the White House the advantage in negotiations on domestic priorities such as education.

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