You’d think it would be simple

Eclipsed by the furor over foreign policy, Congress’ debate over the federal budget has slipped quietly into an impasse that is no garden-variety partisan standoff. It is a battle among Republicans over what their party stands for, analysts say. At issue is whether this year’s budget should put the brakes on the tax-cut drive that has been a hallmark of the Bush presidency, and instead put more muscle behind an old GOP orthodoxy: reducing the deficit.

The dispute has kept Congress from completing one of its most basic annual functions: writing a budget to guide the year’s tax and spending decisions. And it has opened an unusually bitter and personal dispute among prominent Republicans. A small but powerful faction of Senate Republicans is insisting that the fiscal 2005 budget include rules that require any future tax cuts to be offset so their effect on the deficit would be neutralized; that would mean either cutting spending or raising taxes in other areas. The proposal would strike at the core of President Bush’s domestic agenda if he is reelected by making it much more difficult to cut taxes.

But House Republican leaders have vehemently opposed the pay-as-you-go requirement as an affront to their party’s credo that, when it comes to taxes, the lower the better. They have kept the requirement out of the budget resolution passed by the House — and have openly questioned the loyalty of Republicans who disagree. “It is a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party: Is it a party about deficit reduction or a party about tax cuts?” said Stanley Collender, a budget expert at Financial Dynamics, a business communications firm in Washington.

Let’s see… cut taxes or reduce the deficit. Gee, why not simply cut spending and do both?