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Budget: Balance Next Year?

Budget: Balance Next Year?

Key members on both sides of Capitol Hill and both sides of the aisle said Thursday they are intrigued by the suggestion of House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, that Congress attempt to balance the budget in next year's spending blueprint, if deficit projections are not too high.

And a key House Republican made it clear some members already are laying the groundwork for that type of effort if the deficit projections are not too pessimistic.

Kasich floated the idea at a House Budget Committee meeting Thursday, but said he could not do it if the "numbers are too large and I can't develop a consensus."

He left open the possibility of reopening the bipartisan budget talks to try to develop such a proposal.

"There's a 50-50 chance we can do it," said one House Republican, adding that success would depend on the deficit projection, which he noted "is not a precise science."

He also said supporters of achieving a faster balanced budget will have to battle a culture that still wants to spend money.

"I'm not sure that the culture here is strong enough to keep us from going back to that," he said.

The GOP member said that even Republicans outside Washington do not believe this year's budget reconciliation plan will result in a balanced budget, while contending that Republicans would benefit greatly from actually balancing the budget right before a midterm election.

"If we balance the budget next year and we don't do it with mirrors, the midterm election is over," the House Republican said.

Republicans and Democrats refused to dismiss the idea, although Senate Budget Chairman Domenici laughed when asked about it. "It's one of a number of good suggestions that are around," he said.

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., was more positive.

"I like that idea," he said. "If we can do it next year, let's do it next year. I'd love to do it next year," Nickles said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a Budget Committee member, said that while he had not given the idea much thought, he would consider it if such a proposal allowed Congress to stop using the Social Security trust fund to mask the deficit.

He said he would not be adverse to reopening the budget deal if it "allowed us to do more."

A key House Democratic budget hawk also refused to dismiss the idea. "It's an interesting proposal," said House Agriculture ranking member Charles Stenholm, D-Texas.

Stenholm said the idea appeals to him more than the proposals to use any budget surplus for spending programs.

"I like that a whole lot more than I like all the people who want to spend it before we certify it," he said.

However, a House Democratic opponent of the balanced budget deal dismissed the idea, saying that if the Republicans and the Clinton administration had done nothing, the budget would be balanced shortly.

"It's meaningless," said House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis. "The budget would have been balanced if we had done nothing. The economic performance will determine if the budget is balanced."

Republicans are concentrating so much on economic numbers that they are refusing to adopt policies that improve the economy, Obey said.

"This is just an example of how this town can get so goofy playing with the numbers so much that they do nothing," he said. "It's a combination of Rube Goldberg and the Three Stooges, and I can't decide who's funnier."

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