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DEMO PLAN SHOT DOWN; HOUSE OKS GOP BUDGET

A balanced-budget plan proposed by Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, was again defeated Thursday by a lopsided margin, but it is now at least more popular than President Clinton's.

Orton's plan, promoted by a group of 21 centrist Democrats who call themselves The Coalition, died on a 295-130 vote. That wasn't as bad as the 304-117 vote by which the House killed Clinton's plan.Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House passed a Republican plan to balance the budget by 2002 on a 226-195 vote.

That plan is the same budget outline that may doom the chances for Salt Lake County's light rail trolley project. Reps. Jim Hansen and Enid Greene, R-Utah, voted for that plan, while Orton opposed it.

The Republican plan calls for providing no more than a 50-50 federal-local split of costs for mass transit rail projects.

Utah officials have said, however, they cannot afford light rail without a tax increase (which voters rejected in a referendum) unless the federal government provides an 80-20 split, which the Clinton administration and Senate have supported.

Such anti-light rail wording is not included in the Senate's budget outline - and is not legally binding anyway but is used to guide specific appropriations bills. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, says he still hopes 80-20 funding for light rail is possible, but Greene and Hansen say it would take a miracle.

Orton's budget did 30 votes better this year than the 325-100 drubbing it took a year ago. Also, even though Republicans voted against it, their leaders complimented Orton's plan as a realistic attempt to balance the budget with real numbers - which they said Clinton's plan does not.

The main difference between Orton's plan and the GOP's is that it would delay tax cuts until after the budget is balanced over a six-year period - which allows less drastic spending reductions in welfare, Medicaid, Medicare and other programs.

"The Coalition budget doesn't include a tax cut, not because we oppose tax cuts but rather we believe we should cut spending and achieve balance first," Orton said.

"To try to combine both balancing the budget and tax cuts will guarantee neither and will probably prevent either," he said during debate.

Orton also said Republicans and Clinton keep moving closer to his budget, which he wrote for Democratic moderates. "Their numbers on spending have virtually collapsed toward each other to mirror the Coalition's budget."

Orton said his budget also would borrow $137 million less over six years than the GOP budget - and $200 million less than Clinton's - which he said is important because "when you find yourself in the bottom of a deep hole, the first thing you do is stop digging."

Perhaps showing how partisan the debate is, Orton was attacked Wednesday by the National Republican Congressional Committee for supposedly opposing balanced budgets - even though he proposed his own version.

"Orton voted against the interest of the people of the 3rd District and for the interests of a bloated Washington bureaucracy," said Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., NRCC Executive Committee chairman.