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GOP leaders agree on broad budget outlines

GOP leaders agree on broad budget outlines

House and Senate GOP leaders and Budget panel chairmen held the first in a series of bicameral meetings Thursday evening meant to put them on the glide path to finishing a budget resolution by mid-April, and emerged without any decisions, but with agreement on the broad outlines of the fiscal 2000 budget blueprint.

All participants and leadership aides left the meeting saying the five principals, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.,House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., were "a lot closer" than they expected on the big picture issues of saving Social Security, cutting taxes and trying to stay within the statutory discretionary spending caps.

But they have reached no conclusions on the thorny particulars that will make or break a deal, such as the timing and structure of tax cuts, and whether fiscal reality can accommodate the spending caps.

Kasich told reporters there is general agreement between House and Senate Republicans that they can provide tax relief of up to $800 billion to $900 billion over 10 years, and that they will set aside roughly $1.5 trillion for the Social Security trust fund over the same period.

As for whether the budget resolution will break the fiscal 2000 spending cap of $537.2 billion, a steep drop-off from the $565 billion 1999 limit, Kasich said only, "I'm very hopeful that we're going to restrain spending." While Kasich, like Domenici, wants to abide by the caps set in the 1997 balanced budget law, he conceded, "I can't get everything I want."

Domenici said: "I'm for [preserving the caps]. Everybody's for it. Whether we can live with it is the question."

Besides having to reduce spending from current levels to stay under the fiscal 2000 cap, Republicans also must find a way to fulfill their pledges of increasing funds for defense and education, as well as cutting taxes by as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

Earlier Thursday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, remarked on how little maneuvering room the budget resolution will allow for tax cuts.

Said Archer, "If you want to do a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut over five years, you would need at least $300 billion", which is nearly twice Domenici's five-year aggregate tax cut number of $155 billion, and would not leave room for other types of cuts.

Archer added, "I don't believe we can do a tax bill and simply isolate one approach."