Budget, Wright Probe In Capitol Hill Spotlight

TWO major points of contention have emerged as the Bush administration and Congress seek agreement on how and where to trim this year's budget deficit, says Rep. William Gray III. Both sides must reach a consensus on (1) where $21 billion in cuts should be made and (2) how $14 billion in additional revenue should be raised, he says.

The Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law requires that the deficit for the coming fiscal year be trimmed to a projected $100 billion.

Most political observers say that what the Congress and the White House decide on the budget will determine what domestic and international programs they can enact, and what their content will be. Thus these observers consider the budget the most important issue that Congress, and probably the administration, will deal with this year.

But if the budget is the most significant question under consideration on Capitol Hill, the House ethics committee probe of Speaker Jim Wright is the most publicized. The investigation is said to be in its final days. Representative Gray says he expects it to wind up ``in the next two weeks.''

At a breakfast meeting with reporters Gray offered an evenhanded assessment of the Speaker's future. If the House Committee on Standards finds that Mr. Wright has not violated House rules, ``he'll emerge a stronger Speaker,'' Gray said. But if Wright is accused of violation, he ``will be treated like any other member.'' Added Gray, ``I have not seen anything so far, factual,'' that proves laws or rules have been violated.

Politicians and economists generally consider that cutting the budget this year will not be very difficult financially, although the politics of a trim might be another story. But most add that finding ways to reduce the deficit further, as required by Gramm-Rudman a year from now, will be much more challenging.

Gray, who as chairman of the Democratic Caucus and past chairman of the Budget Committee is an influential member of the House, forecasts that if a compromise cannot be reached, the House will move on its own to pass a budget ``sometime this month,'' and the Senate shortly thereafter.

Gray says the administration's proposal to raise $14 billion, in part through user fees, ``will not pass the Congress, which has different ideas about where to raise the money. The question is,'' he adds, ``will the Congress be allowed to have a different $14 billion?''

Further, he says that it is likely that congressional Democrats will seek Bush administration agreement to raise more than $14 billion in revenues. If that is not forthcoming, he says, Democratic budget committee chairmen in the House and Senate are likely to try to carve more of the required $21 billion in budgetary savings out of military expenses than the administration wants.

Thus far, as Gray admits, Congress has passed few bills in its 2 months of existence. That, he says, is because ``basically Congress responds to the leadership of a president.'' Congress has acted, however, on issues for which President Bush has made specific legislative proposals, such as shoring up the savings-and-loan system, and funding for the Nicaraguan contras.

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