House leader signals smooth budget sailing

House leader signals smooth budget sailing

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Tuesday signaled what could turn out to be a relatively smooth fiscal 2001 budget process, telling reporters after a meeting of the bipartisan congressional leadership and President Clinton that, "It seems to me that we are starting off, in terms of the budget process, with common ground and we ought to go forward."

Armey said there is a consensus that Congress and the White House must again in fiscal 2001 balance the federal budget without tapping into the Social Security surplus, and pay off the nation's publicly held debt by 2013.

As for discretionary spending, Armey said, "We will hold the line on spending to the very best of our ability," but noted Congress rarely finishes the year spending at the level envisioned at the beginning of the budget cycle.

Of the three fiscal 2001 spending baselines the Congressional Budget Office submitted to Congress last week, Armey said he is "leaning more towards a freeze at current levels" for fiscal 2001. But he also said he agrees with House Speaker Denny Hastert's assessment that it is unrealistic to assume Congress can freeze discretionary spending at the fiscal 2000 enacted level for the 10-year window outlined by the CBO.

Clinton and congressional Democrats have indicated their preference for a baseline that would allow spending to increase at the rate of inflation, while House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, is pushing for a fiscal 2000 freeze that subtracts certain one-time expenses. Armey also seconded comments made earlier by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., in favor of renewing the effort to adopt a biennial budget cycle.

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