Tuesday, March 15, 2005

G.O.P. Rebellion Threatens to Derail Efforts to Adopt Budget

The New York Times
March 15, 2005
G.O.P. Rebellion Threatens to Derail Efforts to Adopt Budget

WASHINGTON, March 14 - As Congress debates President Bush's $2.57 trillion budget for 2006, House and Senate Republican leaders are facing a potential revolt among their own members, with pressure coming from both the center and the right.

In the Senate, where debate over the budget began on Monday, moderates are pressing to reinstate language opposed by the leadership and the White House that would make it more difficult for Congress to extend President Bush's tax cuts; they want to require that the cuts, as well as any spending on new programs, be offset with savings in other areas. Last year, the fight over these "pay as you go" rules prevented Congress from adopting a budget, a fate the Republican leadership hopes to avoid this year.

In the House, meanwhile, an alliance of Republican conservatives and moderates is also pressing for new rules, in this case to make it harder for lawmakers to approve spending that exceeds the limits set by the budget. The House Republican leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, is fighting the changes, but on Monday evening, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip, was trying to negotiate a compromise before lawmakers took up the budget on Wednesday.

The Republican disputes could have far-reaching political effects if they derail adoption of a budget. Republicans have said for decades that they could tamp down the growth in spending, if only they could get Democrats out of the way. As spending and the federal deficit continued to rise, that promise became a theme of last year's election campaign.

Now, with a Republican in the White House and the party more firmly in control of Congress, the 2006 budget has become a test of Republicans' ability to make good on their vow.

"Agreeing to a budget is becoming a more and more challenging event every year," Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, said Monday.

"I don't expect that this year will be any easier than in the recent past," Mr. Frist added, "but I'm confident that for the sake of this institution and the Congressional budget process, we will do the most basic of our responsibilities this year: pass a budget."

Both the House and Senate leadership are hoping to pass budget resolutions by the end of this week, before lawmakers leave for their Easter recess. The big debate will occur in the Senate, where lawmakers expect battles over cuts to Medicaid and other entitlement programs, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and extending President Bush's tax cuts, as well as the "pay as you go" rule.

At least one Republican, Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, is trying to strike $14 billion in proposed Medicaid cuts from the budget, a plan that drew the ire of Senator Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican and chairman of the budget committee who is a staunch advocate of reducing entitlement spending.

Congress enacted the pay-as-you-go rule in 1990 as part of a budget law. But that law expired in 2002, and Mr. Bush has not supported its renewal. Instead, the White House favors applying the pay-as-you-go philosophy to spending only.

But several Republican moderates, including Senators George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, disagree. They support the broader rule, saying it would help reduce the federal deficit.

"It's a fight over what our priorities should be," Ms. Collins said.

Mr. Voinovich, a co-sponsor of the pay-as-you-go-measure along with Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said he could not vote to cut spending while keeping tax cuts in place. The dispute reflects a deepening rift among Republicans over tax and spending policy, said Brian M. Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning research institution.

"It highlights a bigger philosophical debate within the Republican Party between those who see spending restraint as the Republicans' main priority, versus those who see deficit reduction as the main priority," Mr. Riedl said.

In the House, the push against leadership is coming from conservatives and moderates concerned about spending. Last week, representatives of the 95-member conservative House Republican Study Committee met for the first time with members of the Tuesday Group, a coalition of 45 Republican moderates, to plot a joint effort for rule changes that would make it harder for the House to permit itself to exceed budget spending limits, as it has for each of the last 10 years.

With the moderates' support, conservatives presented the party leadership with a proposal that would require a three-fifths majority for any spending proposals that exceed the budget guidelines. They threatened to block passage of the budget legislation if their demands were not met.

Mr. DeLay, the majority leader, was staunchly opposed, saying the "supermajority" idea would give Democrats more power. But Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana and chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, has told Republican leaders that he has enough votes to derail the budget if nothing is done, two aides familiar with their negotiations said.