Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt, Ashcroft Are Outsiders in Budget Deal

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt, Ashcroft Are Outsiders in Budget Deal

Article excerpt

Richard Gephardt and John Ashcroft both invoked principles in opposing the government budget agreement last week, but the precepts they cited were very different.

Their votes reflected the beliefs of many in their parties and so suggested the fragility of the deal, as well as the contentious battles to come. The details will be picked over in dozens of tax and spending bills that Congress must pass to make the budget outline real.

Money for schools and tax cuts, roads and health care - all still will be on the table in coming months as senators and representatives jaw on in the struggle over the nation's priorities. Gephardt, the Democratic House minority leader from St. Louis County, and Ashcroft, the Republican senator from Missouri, waited until the last minute last week to announce their opposition to the agreement. Gephardt's leadership role, his opposition to his party's president and his White House aspirations made his the more significant decision. "This is a budget of many deficits," Gephardt said, "a deficit of principle, a deficit of fairness, a deficit of tax justice and, worst of all, a deficit of dollars." His main gripe was that he feared the $85 billion in tax cuts over five years would favor the wealthy and disadvantage the middle class and working poor. Details of the cuts - capital gains, estate tax, tuition tax credits - have not been made final. But Gephardt is certain that the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Bill Archer of Texas, will favor business and top-income Americans when it comes to doling out the tax breaks. Beyond the immediate numbers, Gephardt is also looking to a possible presidential bid in a few years and wants to maintain his support with organized labor and the liberal wing of his party. Ashcroft, too, may harbor ambitions for higher office, and his conservative stand against the budget agreement could help cement the backing of his party's right. Ashcroft was the only senator from Missouri or Illinois to vote against the agreement Friday, and one of only 14 Republicans to do so. His big worry was that without caps on the national debt, the deficit could grow if revenue estimates envisioned by negotiators don't come true. "The American people are justifiably skeptical of agreements that have giant loopholes," he said. "Let's make sure the results in the next five years match the rhetoric. . . . We should not entrust the next generation's future to a handshake agreement among people who might not be around to enforce it." Ashcroft also said the budget agreement called for spending and taxing too much. He proposed an amendment that, among other things, would have required three-fifths approval each by the House and Senate for any legislation that increased the public debt above the forecast levels. …

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