WASHINGTON -- Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the incoming House Budget Committee Chairman, is an "aggressive" lawmaker dedicated to cutting the federal budget deficit, according to Washington insiders who have long followed the budget process.
"Kasich is a player who had very strong views in the last Congress, and who laid out concrete proposals for bringing down the deficit," said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, an advocacy research group for a wide variety of interest groups including labor unions, religious groups, and disabled persons.
While Congress' budget committees don't have direct jurisdiction over federal policy on municipal bonds, the Public Securities Association said Kasich would be supportive of the group's initiatives.
"Chairman Kasich has expressed interest in empowering states and localities. Tax-exempt bonds are a key tool in that empowerment, and we look forward to working with him on these matters," said John Vogt, the PSA's vice president of external affairs.
The National League of Cities considers Kasich a "tweener," meaning he's halfway between the new school of radical right-wing Republicans and the old school of more traditional conservatives, said Frank Shafroth, the group's director of policy and federal relations.
As chairman, Kasich will be in the difficult position of trying to balance the Republican leaders' proposed tax cuts with their proposed increases in defense spending, Shafroth said. "We have a real opportunity to redo 1981 -- which was a run to see who could waste more money on national defense and tax cuts," he said.
"He'll have to rub the lamp the right way to get a genie to come out with a balanced budget amendment that causes no pain," Shafroth said.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy group, gives Kasich an A and sees him as "a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility," said Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
The think tank also has some criticism. "We don't consider him to be perfect. He's not as strong an advocate of tax cuts as we would like, but his role ... will be to go after federal spending, and in that regard he's going to do an excellent job," Mitchell said.
Kasich's desire to control the budget deficit instead of just cutting taxes shows that he is not an ideologue but is "really being fairly responsible," said Stanley E. Collender, director of federal budget policy at Price Waterhouse.
With a group like the Heritage Foundation, "it's not good enough that you go to the same church, but you have to believe in it too," said Allen Schick, professor of public policy at George Mason University.
Kasich, 42, will "have to prove" himself by presenting a budget next year that the "Republicans can defend against the media and the Democrats. His numbers will have to add up," Schick said.
Attempts to reach Kasich for an interview were unsuccessful, as he is busy working on a fiscal 1996 budget, his press secretary said.
Kasich's role will be unlike that of his predecessor as chairman, Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., who had the job of defending and helping push through President Clinton's economic package, said Thomas Mann, director of government studies at the Brookings Institution.
Kasich will "have a very different agenda," Mann said. Instead of defending the President's policies, Kasich and the Republicans will be trying to "embarrass the president and weaken him for" the 1996 presidential campaign, Mann said.
Each man has only one congressional session, or two years, in a leadership role on the House Budget Committee. Sabo replaced Rep. Leon E. Panetta as chairman in 1992 when Panetta was tapped to be director of the Office of Management and Budget. And Kasich bucked the Republican seniority system in 1992 to win a seat as the ranking member on the retirement of the previous ranking member, Willis D. Gradison, R-Ohio.
"At this point, there's still a lot of untested waters," Bass said.
In the last session Kasich displayed an ability to work well with conservative Democrats when he and Rep. Tim Penny, D-Minn., put together a list of specific and far-reaching spending cuts, Mann said. But the House Budget Committee generally operates in a very partisan manner, and "I suspect he's not looking for much support from the Democrats" to help pass the budgetary aspects of the Republicans' Contract With America, Mann said.
The contract is a preelection document that Republican House candidates publicized as their legislative blueprint for the next session. Of the many goals it highlights, one is to pass a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget.
"If a balanced budget amendment passes, one would expect that the procedure for making the cuts would follow closely to the floor plan that Kasich put forward" last year, Bass said.
Kasich will bring a style of his own to the chairmanship, Schick said. Sabo is a private, reserved lawmaker "with no public face" who was put into the chairmanship of the Budget Committee not as a numbers cruncher, but as "a party loyalist," he said. Kasich, on the other hand, is a "ball of energy ... who will put a good Republican face forward," he said. Kasich "knows the budget numbers very well," Mann said.
Kasich has close ties to incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., but "is not in his orbit," Schick said. But, because House power will be consolidated in the speaker's office, the two will have to work together to pass aspects of the Republican agenda. "This is not to say there are going to be fights, but it's not to say there won't be," Schick said.
The new chairman was first elected to Congress in 1982 after serving in the Ohio state Senate for four years. Before that he served as an administrative assistant to an Ohio state senator.
In his 12 years in Congress, Kasich has proven his ability to work across party lines. In 1989, while a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he worked with Democrats to limit production of the B-2 bomber to 20 when then-President George Bush requested 132. Most recently he broke with ultra-conservatives and voted for the anti-crime legislation passed in August.