Coalitions in Talks on Budget Reform

Posted February 9, 2004 at 6:31pm

Hoping to create some momentum behind a perennially unsuccessful cause, the House’s leading moderate and conservative GOP coalitions are in discussions to jointly endorse a series of proposals to reform the budget process.

Top members of the Tuesday Group and the Republican Study Committee have been quietly working together in recent days to arrive at a consensus package that both groups could feel comfortable with. While the discussions are ongoing, they hope to have an agreement to announce later this week.

“We’re trying to form a consensus where we can outline budget process reforms that both [groups] can come together on,” said centrist Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), co-chairman of the Tuesday Group.

Wednesday’s mandatory two-hour Republican Conference meeting will be entirely devoted to budget issues, though the moderate and conservative groups probably will not be ready to unveil any proposals at that session, which is expected to focus more on specific numbers and legislative items rather than on process reforms.

Castle declined to discuss many of the specifics of what the two coalitions are discussing, though he did mention biennial budgeting, pay-as-you-go rules and the process of raising the debt ceiling.

Castle allowed that the two groups “may not always agree on exactly where the dollars should be spent” and that “not a lot of the proposals are going to be new.”

“What’s new is that we agree on a lot of these things,” he said.

In addition to Castle, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have also been prominently involved in the discussions. The two conservatives were already working together on their own set of budget reform proposals.

“There is a broad consensus that the budget process is broken and needs to be fixed and conservatives and moderates are working together to outline the key principles for how to fix the budget process and restrain spending,” said Ryan spokeswoman Kate Dwyer.

Many of the items the two groups have discussed have been introduced in some form or another over the last several Congresses.

It is not clear whether concern about mounting deficits will give this year’s efforts a needed push, though Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) did say last week that he might put a budget process bill on the floor this year.

In past years, the Appropriations Committee has been the most vocal opponent of proposed budget reforms, since many of them could potentially reduce the spending panel’s power and flexibility.

Appropriations spokesman John Scofield said Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) hopes that any reform package be moved as its own legislative vehicle rather than as an attachment to the 2004 budget resolution.

A stand-alone package would likely get a joint referral to the Appropriations, Rules and Budget committees, giving all three panels a chance to influence the final result.

While the Budget and Appropriations committees are often at odds, the two panels are united in their opposition to biennial budgeting. Some other reform elements being discussed by moderates and conservatives are ones that already have the backing of Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa).

“Chairman Nussle has been pushing budget process reform for years,” said Budget spokesman Sean Spicer.