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Associated Press: Pelosi says Democrats have shown fiscal responsibility

By David Espo

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats have 'earned the mantle of fiscal responsibility' since taking control of Congress in January by paying for their priorities.

'One hundred percent of the bills' have been paid for, she told a conference of the Associated Press Managing Editors. She estimated that 80 percent of the costs have been covered by spending reductions elsewhere in the budget.

Pelosi, D-Calif., contrasted the Democrats' performance with what she said was Republican abandonment of the pay-as-you-go principle while they and President Bush shared power.

'A projected surplus of $5.6 trillion became a budget deficit of more than $2 trillion' between the time Bush took office and the present, she said.

As a result, she said that in 2007, 'we will spend more on interest payments on our national debt than on any other national priority but defense. We pay in interest four times more than we spend on education and four times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years.'

House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement that Democrats 'talk a good game on fiscal responsibility yet they've proposed billions of wasteful government spending and new tax hikes nearly every week.'

Pelosi's remarks on spending coincided with the release of a report by the Democratic-controlled House Budget Committee saying the new majority had enforced a pay-as-you-go rule 'despite initial skepticism that such discipline could be maintained.'

The report cited spending cut offsets in a farm bill, an increase in college aid and a recently vetoed bill to expand health insurance to millions of lower-income children.

The claims drew a swift rebuttal from House Republicans, who said nearly three-quarters of the Democrats' claimed savings were the result of 'gimmicks, fees or tax increases.'

As an example, they said House Democrats relied on increased fees to cover higher costs in a farm bill, then relied on some of the same measures to pay for a portion of higher spending in energy legislation.

Much of the cost of the insurance measure is paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax.

In her appearance before the editors, Pelosi said Democrats will 'never stop working to end the war' in Iraq.

'The choice is clear: responsible redeployment of our troops out of Iraq or the president's plan for spending at least another $1 trillion on a 10-year war,' she said.

The debate about spending is a perennial one. The Democratic-controlled Congress appears to be on a collision course with Bush and his Republican allies over the cost of routine spending bills needed to fund the government for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

Bush has issued veto threats against most of the 12 measures, saying they exceed his own budget by a combined $22 billion.

Democrats counter that most of the additional money would be used to restore unrealistic cuts sought by the administration to programs such as law enforcement, education and health research.

Pelosi has enforced pay-as-you-go discipline only on legislation affecting mandatory federal programs such as college student loans and children's health and not on the annual spending bills.