Last week the House made permanent a major business tax break, the research and experimentation tax credit, which first was passed in 1981 but had to be renewed periodically to remain in force. It especially benefits companies in pharmaceuticals, defense, aviation and other technology sectors.

The credit itself is not a bad idea. It helps to maintain U.S. leadership in vital industries.

But that's not the issue. Any number of other tax breaks and spending can be justified as good ideas, but none - even spending for the National Institutes of Health - is supposed to increase without an offset.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the permanent R&D tax break would increase the deficit by $156 billion over 10 years, but not a penny of that has been offset.

Likewise defense spending. A House committee defied the Pentagon and restored spending that had been removed from the defense budget by the Senate, increasing the proposed budget to $600 billion from $521 billion.

Meanwhile, the House has not passed legislation to prevent the expiration of the earned income tax credit, child tax credit and education tax credit.

If offsets are the rule, they should apply to everything. If they are not, they should not be an issue only for certain initiatives.