House GOP readies $2.1 trillion budget that boosts defense, leaves small deficit next year - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

House GOP readies $2.1 trillion budget that boosts defense, leaves small deficit next year

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans are ready to push a $2.1 trillion budget through the House Budget Committee that would produce a small deficit next year while giving President Bush the defense and domestic security increases he wants.

Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, was all but certain to get the election-year measure through his panel Wednesday on a likely party-line vote. Passage by the GOP-controlled House is expected next week, when the Democratic-controlled Senate Budget Committee is expected to reshape some of Bush's budget priorities.

Republicans revealed few details of their plan Tuesday, including how tight a rein they would propose for domestic programs to keep the deficit in check. Congress' budget is not binding, but lawmakers use it to plan spending and tax bills that come later.

Even so, Democrats criticized the GOP plan for using Social Security surpluses to finance other programs and shortchanging prescription drug benefits, education and other initiatives. For that, they blamed last year's Republican budget, which paved the way for Bush's $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut.

``They've put us in a straitjacket with last year's budget,'' said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the budget panel.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., called the GOP fiscal blueprint ``the biggest PR job I've ever seen'' because Republicans did not mention that it would use over $1 trillion in Social Security surpluses over the next decade to pay for other programs.

At a news conference Tuesday, Nussle touted his budget's increases for defense and efforts to bolster security at home.

``Our first responsibility as the federal government is to protect our citizens,'' he said.

Conservatives had pressed Nussle to produce a balanced budget for fiscal 2003, which starts next Oct. 1.

But Congress approved a recession relief package last week, which Bush signed Saturday, with a $43 billion price tag for next year. That, plus demands for higher spending for defense and other programs made a surplus next year unreachable, though Nussle said his budget envisions returning to balance in a few years.

``We have a balanced budget were it not for 9/11,'' the date of last year's terrorist attacks, Nussle said.

Nussle used no figure, but said there would be no red ink if not for last week's anti-recession bill. That suggests a deficit of $43 billion or less _ small compared to the size of the budget or the $10 trillion U.S. economy.

Nussle said the GOP budget would provide the full $38 billion boost Bush requested for domestic security, twice this year's figure. He also said it would give Bush the entire Pentagon increase he has requested: a $48 billion increase to $379 billion.

But a part of that increase has been unpopular with lawmakers of both parties. That is a $10 billion contingency fund Bush would use at his discretion for the war in Afghanistan or military actions elsewhere.

To limit Bush's free hand, Nussle's budget would require Bush to submit a detailed request for the $10 billion later this year.

Spratt said Bush has Democrats' full support for defense and domestic security spending.

Nussle also said his budget would use projections by the White House budget office, instead of more pessimistic figures by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that lawmakers usually use. That will ease his job because the White House projects higher tax collections and lower Medicare spending than the congressional office estimates.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Tuesday that he will use the congressional figures, calling the White House estimates ``funny business.'' Conrad said his budget will have more debt reduction and spend more for schools and prescription drugs than Nussle's plan.
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