Despite criticism and doubt from across the aisle, Republican budget writers announced Wednesday that they intend to enact President Bush’s tax cuts, provide drug coverage for seniors and bolster defense spending, all while balancing the budget.
House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) said they will pull off such an impressive feat by instructing authorizing committee chairmen to root out fraud, abuse and waste and cut from nearly every corner of the budget — mandatory programs and discretionary alike.
“We’re asking [for] tough medicine at a tough time,” Nussle said Tuesday, a day before unveiling his $2.2 trillion fiscal 2004 budget outline.
Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) also proposed a $2.2 trillion budget that would cap discretionary spending and enact the bulk of Bush’s economic growth and tax-cut package.
Nussle’s plan would make the 2001 tax cuts permanent and enact Bush’s $726 billion, 11-year economic plan, which includes eliminating taxes on corporate dividends — all without touching Social Security or slashing defense and homeland security spending.
But unlike the president’s budget outline, Nussle would balance the federal budget within seven years by slashing from most government programs.
Nussle has asked authorizing committee chairmen to trim 1 percent from discretionary and mandatory spending except for Social Security, unemployment insurance and defense and homeland security.
Democrats scoffed at the notion, saying Republicans would push through the tax cuts but then never follow up with spending reductions.
“I would say this is politically bold, if I thought the [spending] cuts would ever happen,” House Budget ranking member John Spratt (D-S.C.) told Nussle during Wednesday’s markup.
“I don’t believe, with all do respect, Mr. Chairman, that this budget is on the level,” he added, noting Nussle would have the House vote on the tax cuts by April 11 but not require committee chairmen to produce their savings until July.
Nickles’ budget would provide $698 billion over 11 years for Bush’s economic package while also enacting spending caps.
And while deficit hawks applauded efforts to rein in spending, some said Nussle’s plan would not do enough.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said. “I congratulate Chairman Nussle on taking a step toward reducing spending [but] there’s still too much spending.”
For example, while Nussle would give Bush $400 billion to launch a Medicare prescription drug plan, Toomey would provide less.
“I think you can add a prescription drug plan and reform Medicaid for a lower price tag,” he said.
Democrats also took issue with the Budget chairmen for not including a war against Iraq in the proposals.
If a war does take place, it will be fought and paid for in 2003 while this budget plan is for fiscal 2004, Nussle said, not explaining how a costly war could be absorbed into the current budget without causing deficits later.
If there are out-year costs stemming from prolonged involvement in the region, “We will pass the hat and look for others to help pay,” he said.
Democrats responded that not accounting for a war that could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the budget is disingenuous.
“I am anxious to learn whether this committee will be responsible and report a budget that reflects the costs we all know are imminent,” Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said. “I hope this committee will take the honest approach and budget for the costs of the looming war.”
Other Democrats lambasted the Republicans’ plans as giving too much away in tax cuts while cutting essential programs.
“This budget tells America, ‘We should slash the health care benefits of the veterans who fought in World War II to pay for an irresponsible tax cut for the wealthiest among us,’” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“This budget does not lay out a realistic course of action for the American people on how Congress plans to confront skyrocketing deficits while making the needed investments in our country,” he added, noting that House Democrats will unveil a counter-proposal next week.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, added that Republicans are not being honest about why across-the-board cuts are necessary.
“The Republicans know that it will not work to say they are cutting key programs to make room for tax cuts for the wealthy so, instead, they wrap the flag around their budget — using Americans’ sense of patriotism to cloak their political agenda,” he said.