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House, Senate adopt balanced-budget plan

Congress endorsed a plan to balance the budget by 2002. The House Republican majority passed the resolution Thursday with a handful of Democrats by a vote of 239-194, shortly before the Senate approved the measure on a straight party-line vote of 54-46.

The resolution, a federal spending blueprint that does not need to be signed by the president, establishes the plan for Congress to reduce the deficit by $894-billion over a seven-year period. The plan includes $270-billion in Medicare savings and $182-billion from Medicaid. Tax cuts of $245-billion also are included, but they would occur only if the budget stays on track to be balanced by 2002.

Supporters acknowledged that balancing the budget involves hard choices, but they argue these must be made if the debt problem is going to be solved. "We have proven the naysayers wrong," said Republican Robert Walker of Pennsylvania. "We have followed through on our promises."

In the Senate, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico said: "Let's give a death penalty to deficits, for they are death to growth and prosperity."

The cuts in Medicare and Medicaid topped the concerns of those who voted against the resolution. Balancing the budget is an important goal, opponents argued, but they said the program cuts target those who can least afford them and that the tax cuts would benefit only the wealthy.

"We all support balancing the budget," said Rep. Bob Wise, a Democrat from West Virginia. "But I don't support balancing the federal budget while we unbalance the budget of American families."

Sen. Jim Exon, a Democrat from Nebraska, said, "The Republican budget lacks a heart, and it has no soul."

The specific spending details, including the tax cuts, will be worked out by both chambers over the next several months and be voted on in the fall as a reconciliation package.

Representatives voting to approve the seven-year deficit reduction package: Bilirakis (R), Canady (R), Fowler (R), Goss (R), McCollum (R), Mica (R), Miller (R), Ros-Lehtinen (R), Scarborough (R), Stearns (R), Weldon (R), Young (R).

Voting against: Brown (D), Gibbons (D), Johnston (D), Meek (D), Peterson (D), Thurman (D).

Senators voting to approve the budget plan: Mack (R).

Voting against: Graham (D).

FLAG PROTECTION AMENDMENT: The possibility of a constitutional amendment against flag desecration took a step closer to reality Wednesday when it passed the House 312-120, two dozen more votes than the two-thirds needed to approve a constitutional amendment. To be enacted, the amendment also needs to be passed by two-thirds of the Senate and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.

If 67 senators and 38 states endorse the amendment, it will become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Forty-nine state legislatures have stated support for the amendment; prospects are less certain in the Senate.

"Desecrating the flag is the antithesis of allegiance," said Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Ocala, noting that the Pledge of Allegiance begins "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."

Voting for the amendment: Brown (D), Peterson (D), Thurman (D), Bilirakis (R), Canady (R), Fowler (R), Goss (R), McCollum (R), Mica (R), Miller (R), Ros-Lehtinen (R), Scarborough (R), Stearns (R), Weldon (R), Young (R).

Voting against: Gibbons (D), Johnston (D), Meek (D).

_ Congressional Quarterly