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House GOP Moderates Seek Budget Changes

March 15, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The budget Republicans want to push through the House next week is running into trouble, with party moderates insisting they will oppose it unless billions are siphoned from its tax cut to a range of domestic programs.

In a letter Friday to GOP leaders, 11 centrist House Republicans complained about ``a significant imbalance″ between tax and spending cuts, saying of the fiscal blueprint, ``We cannot support it in its current form.″

With the Republicans’ tight House majority, the complaints _ and those of others who did not sign the letter _ could pressure GOP leaders to alter the outline.

The moderates acknowledged that the economy should be strengthened with tax cuts, soaring federal deficits must be controlled and terrorism confronted, but said spending needs for education, the environment, veterans and health care cannot be ignored. The letter was sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa.

``We applaud the president for his leadership in attempting to strengthen the economy through his economic growth proposal, but such a package should be part of a budget recognizing the value of the federal role in critical programs impacting millions of Americans,″ they wrote.

Aides said potential Medicare savings were of particular concern for several signees.

The letter offered no alternative to the $1.4 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years proposed by the House budget, but aides said the moderates generally prefer roughly one-third that amount.

The dissent surfaced a day after Senate moderates demanded a reduction in the tax cuts that President Bush wants. Together, the protests underlined the delicate political balancing act between conservatives and centrists that congressional GOP leaders face as they attempt to craft a budget for the coming year.

The House budget calls for cuts in a broad range of federal programs, including aid for students, farmers and veterans, as a way to balance the budget in 2010. It would also make room for $1.4 trillion of the tax cuts that Bush wants over the next decade, boost defense spending and provide at least $28 billion over 10 years to create Medicare prescription drug benefits.

``I don’t think it’s cause for panic,″ Hastert spokesman John Feehery said of the letter. Asked if the GOP budget would have to be changed, he said, ``It’s too early to tell.″

House Budget Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said Nussle is ``willing to listen to the concerns of all members ... and explain why we think the budget we presented meets the challenges America is facing.″

The House budget claims to be balanced by 2010, the Senate plan by 2013.

Congress’ budget sets overall limits for revenue and spending. Later bills make actual changes and decide the details of which programs will be affected.

Nussle’s budget proposes to hold spending for all annually approved programs _ covering everything but automatically paid benefits like Social Security _ to a 1 percent increase over last year to $775 billion in 2004. That is $12 billion less than Bush has proposed and a fraction of the increases common recently.

Overall, the House and Senate budgets would spend $2.2 trillion in 2004.

Republicans hold a 229-205 House edge over Democrats, plus a Democratic-leaning independent. Twelve Republicans would have to vote against a GOP budget for it to lose, assuming everyone else voted by party line.

Bush has proposed $1.57 trillion in tax reductions, but the only portion Congress is likely to consider seriously this year is its $726 billion to spur the economy. That plan _ which is expected to shrink still further _ would end taxes on corporate dividends and let income tax rate reductions enacted in 2001 take effect this year, rather than 2004 and 2006.

GOP House members who signed Friday’s letter were Amo Houghton, Jack Quinn and Sue Kelly of New York; Mike Castle of Delaware; Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons of Connecticut; Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri; Fred Upton of Michigan; Todd Platts of Pennsylvania; Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Ray LaHood of Illinois.

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