Democrats praise party's fiscal restraint

Fiscal conservatism appears no longer to be the exclusive political bastion of the Republican Party as congressional Democrats are touting themselves as the chintzy guardians of the people's money this election year. 

Democrats have been working overtime to tell voters that Republicans are spending their money without constraint. Since January, Democrats have been charting comparisons of budget deficits and debt ratios from the eight years under President Clinton and those of President Bush and his father. 

"The eight years of the two Bush administrations delivered $2.5 trillion in deficits, while the eight years of the Clinton administration delivered a $61 billion surplus," House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said.

The Maryland Democrat criticized Republican members about the proposed 2005 budget. He said they refuse to acknowledge a projected deficit of more than $500 billion this year and deficits of $4 trillion over the next 10 years as a warning sign to re-establish the pay-as-you-go policy used under Mr. Clinton.

"Both [parties] will claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility this year; however, examination of the facts shows that Democrats, as they have been and are now, the party of fiscal responsibility while Republicans are the party of fiscal recklessness," Mr. Hoyer said.

The Senate in March passed an amendment to its budget offered by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, calling for a pay-as-you-go plan, in which all budget expenditures are to be covered -- either through spending cuts or new revenue sources. The pay-go rules also apply to extensions of Mr. Bush's child tax credit, marriage-penalty-tax repeal and the expansion of the 10 percent tax bracket.

That significantly widened the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. House Republicans see no need for a pay-go budget and have opposed it vehemently in the House-Senate conference, said a Republican Senate aide with knowledge of the negotiations.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island were among the Senate Republicans supporting the fiscally stringent pay-go rules.

The Senate conference originally asked for a five-year commitment on the spending requirement, but the House would accept only one, said the aide. The House also balked at a three-year commitment.

Mr. Hoyer, who was joined by Democratic freshman Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Rick Larsen of Washington and Tim Ryan of Ohio, said Republicans will pay a price if a budget resolution that was supposed to be completed by April 15 doesn't pass soon.

Democrats are united in both chambers for a pay-go plan that includes the tax cuts. The impasse with Republican leadership has become so divisive that there is speculation on Capitol Hill that a budget resolution might not pass this year, which could force spending to remain at current levels for another year.

"The issue is certain Republicans are so addicted to tax cuts that they don't want to play by the rules," Mr. Feingold said.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said the budget is so complex that it is never "in and of itself a campaign issue."

"But I think it would reflect badly on Senate Democrats and the people who would be hurt by pay-go if the budget doesn't pass are the vulnerable Democrats in the House," Mr. Forti said.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Senate Campaign Committee, said budget passage is imperative.

"We'll have to, whether it takes a week or two weeks to get it as good as we can, ultimately we have to pass a budget and we will," he said.