House, Senate, warm up for budget resolution debate

With a markup of the fiscal 2004 budget resolution around the corner, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., are expected to engage in a flurry of meetings this week to attract Republican and possibly Democratic support for their respective budget plans.

Nussle's markup is still a week away, with Nickles expected to follow suit quickly thereafter. Both chairmen say they will have a concurrent resolution completed by the statutory deadline of April 15.

A bleak budget picture, obscured by forecasted deficits, is not making the job easy, as several moderate Republicans have openly voiced displeasure about the Bush administration's new tax cuts. Aside from deciding the amount of tax cuts to call for under the protected rules of budget reconciliation, which requires but a simple majority to pass in the Senate, Nussle and Nickles also must deal with a host of other issues, both large and small.

No decision has yet been made on whether to write a budget resolution that covers five years or 10 years, with leaders split over the benefits-and potential drawbacks-of both.

Both House and Senate budget writers are leaning toward a 10-year resolution, a Senate Republican aide said Monday. The Bush administration had used a five-year forecast in its budget submission earlier this year, and many lawmakers prefer the five-year forecast out of concerns that 10-year estimates are notoriously inaccurate. But because Republican leaders want to use the reconciliation to pass a tax cut, lawmakers see no reason to pass one-particularly one that repeals the double taxation of stock dividends-that sunsets in just five years, the source said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are working to craft a budget alternative of their own after refusing to do so last year but then paying for it politically. However, Democrats are still unsure of how to proceed, with some lawmakers wary of being able to fit a large prescription drug benefit and discretionary spending increases within current budget parameters, while still showing they can balance the budget and reduce long-term debt.