Analysis: Budget Debate Shows Rhetorical Limits
Washington (UPI) Mar 11, 2004
In a sign that talk on Capitol Hill about cutting spending next year beyond that minor levels proposed by President Bush is unlikely to amount to much, Hill GOP leaders and the White House gained big victories on the 2005 budget resolution Wednesday, including restoration of proposed cuts to the Pentagon budget.
The GOP budget committee chairman leading the effort to draft budget resolutions guiding annual appropriations in both the House and Senate, Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, had proposed to slash military spending by $7 billion and $2 billion, respectively, from President Bush's proposed $421 billion Pentagon budget.
But the proposal had GOP military hawks and some Democrats on both sides of the Capitol up in arms and was opposed by the Republican leadership along with the White House.
In the Senate, which is debating their resolution this week, a reinstatement of the proposed cut was approved overwhelmingly.
Both of the budget resolutions still include some cuts that reduce the Bush White House's proposed $823 billion in discretionary spending as part of an over $2 trillion budget for next year, but only by a few billion each.
Critics like the liberal-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities contend the cuts are not deep enough to hold down the federal budget deficit, a stated aim of the Bush White House and leaders from both parties.
In a move some are saying shows Nussle's resolve on keeping spending low and properly addressing the massive federal deficit, he capitulated to GOP appropriators and leadership as well as White House demands that the military funding be restored in his measure.
In announcing the measure to reporters last week, Nussle said cutting spending wherever possible was a priority, a sentiment echoed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
The move to keep military spending in line with the Pentagon's request is just one of multiple failed efforts at budget restraint eschewed by GOP leaders and members of both parties on each side of the Capitol.
Nussle initially called for a hold on all spending at 2004 levels and moratorium on so-called "earmarks," better known as pork spending for member pet projects, for one year.
But the plan has not been reduced to a recommendation to keep such discretionary spending in check.
In addition, a budget reform package that had support from conservative and centrist Republicans has not ended up in the resolution Nussle's committee was expected to approve Thursday afternoon.
"He has talked fairly tough, but I think this (reinstating the military spending) shows the reality," said one GOP aide.
One provision that survived the GOP infighting over the resolution is a set of instructions to appropriators to eliminate wasteful spending in mandatory programs.
During Thursday's markup, Nussle reiterated that everything is on the table when it comes to controlling spending, specifically saying that Congress must, "get a hold of entitlement spending."
"We cannot being to address the current budget deficit without getting hold of current spending growth," Nussle said, adding that overall spending growth has increased on average by 5 percent each year since the GOP took over control of the House in 1994.
But what is included in his bill is unlikely to accomplish this task according to Republican and staff members behind further cuts.
For one, many of the provisions in budget resolutions are non-binding.
While the plans are followed, appropriators generally have no problem ignoring the spending limits laid out in the documents when it serves their interests.
Nussle himself said that he was "asking" for no new mandatory or entitlement spending and for members to control earmarks.
While Pentagon officials are likely ecstatic about keeping funding at the levels requested by President Bush, GOP leaders in the Senate failed in their effort to stop approval of pay-as-you-go budgeting restrictions that would ensure all future tax cuts and increases in entitlement spending be paid for, typically by raising taxes in other areas or cutting spending.
The move would make extending Bush's expiring tax cuts much more difficult, but is not expected to survive House-Senate negotiations over a final resolution given the strong opposition to the move by the GOP leadership who control those talks.
Included in both house and Senate bill are extensions of the $1,000 child tax credit, the 10 percent tax bracket and marriage penalty relief enacted during Bush's term but set to expire.
Even if the pay/go amendment survives in the final compromise resolution, proponents of these tax cuts believe the popularity of the taxes would still ensure passage.
Nussle indicated Thursday that he plans to move a separate bill next Wednesday that would enact pay/go rules to spending increases.
Unlike the provisions adopted by the Senate, his bill would exempt already enacted tax cuts and faces an uncertain future in the House where such constraints do not appear to have the same level of support as in the Senate.
Although Democrats are attacking the GOP for its budget proposals, don't believe that they are acting any more responsibly in the limited role they have in the drafting process as the minority party.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., succeeded Wednesday in his effort to strip language from the Senate bill that would have required the Senate Finance Committee enact legislation that trimmed mandatory spending by $3.4 billion over the next five years.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said Thursday that it was a "spectacle" to watch the GOP leadership push through a budget resolution in a time when the federal government is facing a federal deficit of more than $500 billion this year.
She noted that of creating job growth, widening access to health care and improving education, are not adequately addressed in a GOP bill that helps out special interests.
"The budget should be a reflection of our national values," said Pelosi.
She also echoed Republican rhetoric that everything should be on the table in terms of controlling spending.
Nevertheless, she tacitly endorsed the restoration of military spending, noting the strong support for the move in the Senate along with the support of Democratic military appropriators the House.
Such double-edged talk calls into question just what values they really want reflected in the budget resolutions, as it does not reinforce the calls for reducing spending and dealing with the deficit as leaders of both parties contend they want.
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