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Update: Budget Battle

May 9, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: As the House of Representatives moved toward a final budget vote this morning, Democrats continued to chide the Republican leadership for having to postpone the vote from last week.

REP. EARL POMEROY, (D) North Dakota: We are debating this motion before us to try and fix the budget filing foul-up of the majority from the other night. You know, it’s one thing for the majority to be unfair; it’s another thing for the majority to be inept. But for the majority to be both on the same piece of legislative business, it’s a bit much.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders originally set the budget vote for last Thursday, but members ended up waiting all day and all night before eventually being told at 2:00 Friday morning that two pages of the budget report were missing, and the vote would have to be put off. Today, Republicans still were trying to explain the delay.

REP. PORTER GOSS, (R) Florida: We had a jammed copy machine. And in our interest to try to get the debate started, we were not prudent enough to catch the facts that there was still two pieces of paper caught in the copy machine. And we did catch it, but we just didn’t catch it immediately.

KWAME HOLMAN: Explanations given, the Republican House majority moved on to praise the $1.96 trillion budget blueprint for the next fiscal year, which also lays out an 11-year $1.35 trillion tax cut plan, the largest in 20 years.

REP. MIKE PENCE, (R) Indiana: I’m pleased that for the first time since 1981, this Congress will provide substantial tax rate reductions for all American families that pay taxes. Washington is sending America a pro-growth message that helps families, small businesses and family farms. It is refreshing, Mr. Speaker, that Congress is recognizing that the wealth of this nation, and the size of the surplus is not our creation but a product of the work of every American.

REP. PAT TOOMEY, (R) Pennsylvania: You know, every single time in American history that we’ve had sweeping tax reduction, we have seen a corresponding acceleration in economic growth and activity. The economy accelerates, take-home wages go up, productivity rises, living standards rise. There’s no coincidence, there’s no mystery as to why this happens.

KWAME HOLMAN: But in recent days, Democrats increasingly have charged the spending figures in the plan are unrealistically low and Congress is sure to spend more, even while remaining committed to billions in tax cuts.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Majority Leader: This budget is a farce and it’s a fraud, and at the end, America deserves better than that and we can do better than that. I would pray that we can send this budget back to the committee. Let’s have a real bipartisan process where ideas from both sides are incorporated into a final product. Let’s give America a budget that’s worthy of this great country.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats singled out President Bush’s number one priority, education, as being woefully under-funded. Washington’s Jay Inslee noted that $300 billion for education over ten years, passed by the Senate, was removed during House-Senate budget negotiations.

REP. JAY INSLEE, (D) Washington: $294 billion for smaller classes that America wants. $294 billion for more teachers that America wants. $294 billion for better quality in our education that America wants. The U.S. Senate put that money in for better schools; the Republican Party took it out. The President recently asked an important question. He asked: “Is our children learning?” Well, in this budget, they is not.

KWAME HOLMAN: But California Republican Gary Miller argued the budget plan nonetheless fulfills the President’s promise of increased education funding.

REP. GARY MILLER, (R) California: You on that side of the aisle talk about cutting education. The fact is, read the budget. We’re spending 11.5% more this year on education than we did last year. How many of you at home got an 11.5% increase in pay this year? Nobody i know.

KWAME HOLMAN: And in a victory for the White House and House Republicans, the plan calls for limiting overall spending increases to less than 5%.

REP. JOHN SUNUNU, (R) New Hampshire: We control the growth in government spending; we increased discretionary by about 4%. There are many that would like to see government explode 8%, 10%, 12% growth in spending. That’s not sustainable. It would be nice to be able to fund every program, to double the funding for every program we have at the federal level and go home and tell the American people we’re spending money on good deeds. But the fact is, that’s not sustainable.

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, Democrat Charles Stenholm warned Republicans they may end up paying a political price for their budget and tax cuts.

REP. CHARLES STENHOLM, (D) Texas: This is a borrow-and-spend resolution. It borrows from our children and grandchildren in order to pay the political needs of today. I suggest you select carefully your words, my friends on the majority, because tomorrow you will either enjoy them or you will eat them.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Jim Nussle of Iowa, the new Budget Committee chairman, was undaunted.

REP. JIM NUSSLE, Chairman, Budget Committee: Let’s recognize where those tax dollars come from, and let’s take the opportunity to provide tax relief for the American people. Vote for a budget of opportunities, vote for the Conference report.

KWAME HOLMAN: And with that, Republicans, this afternoon, passed the budget plan on the strength of their slim House majority. Within minutes, the budget resolution was being debated in the Senate, where a final vote is expected tomorrow.