House Dems say budget resolution exceeds Bush request

A recent memo written by House Budget Committee Democrats faults their Republican counterparts for using "budgetary sleights of hand" in order to maintain a "fiction" that their budget resolution coincides with the president's budget request when in fact it is nearly $7 billion above what the White House initially proposed.

The Sept. 23 memo comes amid much sniping between Republicans and Democrats over who is to blame for the complete breakdown of the budget and appropriations process this year. Republicans have been quick to point the finger at the Senate for its failure to produce a budget resolution, but House Democrats say Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, has misled colleagues into thinking that his resolution is consistent with the administration's budget request, when it actually exceeds the president's request by nearly $6.9 billion. That sum does not entirely apply to the fiscal 2003 discretionary budget authority total of $759 billion usually cited by budget leaders and instead covers the entire budget submission, including outlays.

"What our analysis shows is that the congressional Republican leadership has already rejected the president's budget," said Thomas Kahn, Democratic staff director for the House Budget Committee. Kahn characterized the current infighting between Republicans over whether to "give in" to Senate demands for more money this year as "ironic" given his analysis.

The dispute, Kahn said, is whether to spend "$7 billion more than the White House or $16 billion more." Democrats said there are three areas of discrepancies. The first is over scoring. Breaking from tradition, Nussle this year used OMB spending estimates in drafting the budget resolution. However, the $759 billion total set in the resolution is the figure at which the Congressional Budget Office scored the president's budget; OMB, by contrast, only scores the budget request at $757.9 billion. Such "estimate shopping," Democrats said, allows the GOP resolution to spend $1.1 billion more than requested. The second discrepancy is over transportation funding, with the resolution assuming $4.4 billion more in highway spending than requested.

While this extra spending is technically not scored against discretionary accounts, Democrats say it still amounts to extra spending and therefore, when added to the $1.1 billion scoring issue, increases to $5.5 billion the amount the House resolution is above the request. Democrats also accuse Republicans of trying to "double count" nearly $1.35 billion in mass transit spending, bringing the total discrepancy to $6.9 billion.

"Knowing that the spending levels in the president's budget are inadequate for this Congress either to complete its work or to provide the governmental services that the public expects, Republicans are manipulating the budget resolution and the budget process to stretch the president's request as inconspicuously as possible," the memo states.