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House Democrat urges Bush to call budget summit

House Budget Committee ranking member John Spratt, D-S.C., Thursday offered a gloomy economic budget forecast for fiscal 2003, and called for the administration to convene a budget summit to put the nation on a sound fiscal course.

"We need to come together and try to settle our differences around the same table," he said.

Spratt said a model for the talks could be the 1997 negotiations under former President Clinton that led to a series of budget surpluses. "If we could have another negotiation like that, I think it could be useful," said Spratt, who also pointed to the 1990 budget deal, when President Bush's father reluctantly agreed to raise taxes--alienating conservatives and, some argue, triggering Bush's defeat to Clinton in 1992.

"He can take a page from his father's experience," said Spratt, "and hope it doesn't cost him what it cost his dad. But his dad did the right thing."

The White House today responded coolly to Spratt's suggestion. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said consideration of the budget by its relevant congressional committees is "the best process."

Spratt also tried to explain why once rosy budget surplus forecasts have gone south over the course of one year. Spratt estimated fiscal 2002 will produce a deficit of $179 billion when Social Security and Medicare funds are excluded, and said the $1.3 trillion tax cut passed last year was the predominant factor.

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma this afternoon countered with a statement defending the GOP tax cut. "Both the House and Senate Budget committees have concluded the current budget situation is a result of the war on terrorism and the recession--not tax relief," Watts said. "If it wasn't for the Republican-led initiative to give Americans more of their money back, we'd probably be deeper in recession than we are today."

Spratt said Congress was sure to extend expiring tax provisions and address the alternative minimum tax, adding hundreds of billions to the tab. And, he noted, last year's tax bill is set to expire in the 10th year, something a future Congress would not be likely to allow. Further spending on defense and homeland security will only add to the problem, leading to on-budget deficits in the short term--and possibly in the out years if economic assumptions change.

"We've got a problem," he said.

But Spratt declined to say that elements of the tax cut should be repealed, saying the administration should come up with solutions. "We think that they have the first move," he said.