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CONSERVATIVE DEMOS GET WILD, PROPOSE OWN BUDGET PACKAGE

SHARE CONSERVATIVE DEMOS GET WILD, PROPOSE OWN BUDGET PACKAGE

A group of maverick, conservative Democrats proposed their own deficit reduction package last Friday as a proposed middle ground for other battling Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, budget task force chairman for The Coalition - a group of 22 moderate to conservative Democrats - said it is the only package that truly "reflects America's priorities."He told a press conference, "We have placed deficit reduction over ideology, spending cuts before tax cuts and presented a credible and complete package without blue smoke and mirrors."

Like Republican proposals, it would eliminate deficit spending within seven years - as opposed to the 10 years proposed by President Clinton, who says doing it faster would bring cuts in government services that are too drastic.

But The Coalition's plan would bring cuts earlier and at a more steady rate - while most Republican cuts would mostly come at the end of the seven-year period.

So Orton said the Coalition's earlier cutting would save "$150 billion more over seven years."

The Coalition also proposes to postpone any tax cuts until after the budget is balanced and deficit spending ends. "The Republicans have a $245 billion tax cut up front. We do not have a tax cut up front," Orton said.

He added, "We also cut less Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform, discretionary spending and veterans and agriculture spending." The Coalition's plan would cut $105 billion less in spending than the Republican budget reconciliation package.

The Coalition instead projects achieving many of its savings by changing the way the government figures its cost-of-living increases for employees and beneficiaries.

It would decrease the Consumer Price Index - on which such increases are now based - by 0.3 percent, which it says more accurately reflects inflation anyway.

The Coalition also proposes to have one flat cost-of-living increase rate for all government beneficiaries, which would reflect a middle-ground of different rates now offered to different retirees and other groups.

"It would be the same for a sergeant as a general. The bread and things they buy cost the same," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

The Coalition's package also proposes to save $62 billion more than the Republican package by projecting to move more people to work faster by requiring them to develop individual responsibility plans - and by placing a five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.

Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., said, "We believe that when the real negotiating begins, the final product will look more like what we are proposing than anything out there right now."

The Coalition wrote House Speaker Newt Gingrich asking that the House be allowed to vote separately on its proposal when the House considers deficit reduction plans as early as next week. That committee blocked consideration of a separate Coalition budget plan earlier this year.