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House GOP Treads Unfamiliar Path

“It certainly does not put us in a defensive position but rather the opposite,” said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). “Democrats will have to explain their opposition to it.”

On taxes, House Republicans are now working to extend the cuts they’ve already passed. They believe that they will be able to cast Democrats who oppose the extension as being in favor of tax increases.

Yet even if Republicans succeed in preserving and extending the cuts, aides concede, such a victory would not have nearly the same media impact that the original passage did.

And extending the tax cuts will also require making room for them in the fiscal 2005 budget, which will itself be shaped by GOP leaders being buffeted by a number of competing outside pressures.

Even more so this year than in past ones, Republicans see this year’s budget as the key to the entire agenda.

“If you look at where the priority is this year, it is on the budget,” said Cantor. “It is trying to keep the lid on spending.”

That desire to limit spending growth and attack deficits is widespread among House Republicans, but this year’s effort has also been fueled by withering outside criticism of the GOP’s economic stewardship.

While Democrats have spent the last few years blaming Republicans for mounting deficits, House GOP lawmakers have been dismissive of such attacks. But late last year, many conservative groups and opinion leaders began joining the chorus of criticism.

In early discussions within the Republican Conference about the budget, fiscal conservatives demanded that the spending blueprint include cuts or at least a freeze in non-Defense discretionary spending. Moderates, meanwhile, said such a freeze would be acceptable only if the defense budget was also on the table.

But when Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) tried to move forward with a plan that shaved half of 1 percent off Bush’s defense request, he faced revolt from yet another faction — Armed Services Committee members — and was forced to match the administration’s number.

Now, the budget’s path has been temporarily slowed by lawmakers’ demands that the House also move a bill to reform the entire budget process.

The other major item on the near-term House agenda — the FSC/ETI bill — is again more a reactive measure than a proactive one. While Republicans have named it the American Jobs Creation Act and have touted its potential economic benefits, the ultimate purpose of the bill is to avoid threatened sanctions from the World Trade Organization.

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