GOP Leaders Face Budget Battle Fallout Upon Return

Posted April 14, 2003 at 3:15pm

GOP leaders may be enjoying their two-week recess, but when they return to Washington they may face a difficult time repairing fractured relationships resulting from Senate Republicans’ budget deal.

Before GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) would vote for the budget, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) had to pledge that his committee would not craft a tax-cut package exceeding $350 billion. He did so with Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) blessing, but that deal, which was not disclosed to House leaders in advance, has bitterly divided the party’s Congressional leadership.

“Our top priority is getting the economy going again,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. “You’ve got to work with the Senate. The Constitution says you’ve got to do it. … We can be upset about what happened but we have to” move forward and keep working.

Feehery added that he expects tensions to cool, offering that “it was a long seven-week stretch” and people were tired and worn out and may have reacted more forcefully than they otherwise might have.

“It was unbelievable,” a Senate Democratic aide said of the barbs Republicans exchanged Friday as a result of the pledge Grassley delivered on the floor.

The House felt “blindsided,” the aide said, adding that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) were “furious.”

“It brings up a trust issue,” which could make it difficult for them to work together upon returning, the Democratic staffer said.

Snowe and Voinovich had said for weeks that they would not back a bigger tax cut. The House originally wanted the full $726 billion package President Bush proposed, but agreed to scale it down to $550 billion in conference committee, believing the Senate would consider such a figure.

“Senator Grassley’s position was not expressed by him or any member of the Senate leadership during negotiations with the House,” DeLay said Friday. “It was a secret. I didn’t know. The Speaker didn’t know. … Even Woodward and Bernstein didn’t know!”

Such rhetoric will hopefully subside before Members return April 29, Snowe spokeswoman Elizabeth Wenk said, explaining that the reality of the situation was that without an agreement, the budget would not have passed.

“Senator Grassley is a man of his word,” Wenk said.

Congress should be able to move forward now and focus on crafting the tax cut, she added.

A spokesman for Frist said he could not speculate on what needs to happen to repair his boss’ damaged relationship with House leaders.

What is more certain is that most people believe the tax-cut issue is settled.