Budget Reform Vote in Doubt

Posted June 22, 2004 at 6:50pm

Fearful of losing on both the symbolic level and the actual vote, House GOP leaders are mulling whether to pull the budget process reform bill before it is scheduled to hit the floor Thursday.

The situation could still be resolved in time to hold a vote, but with no agreement in place between several competing factions — including Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) and shifting coalitions of moderates and conservatives — Republican vote-counters are worried that the final product will not have enough votes to pass and would send the party into next week’s recess on a sour note.

Currently, there is a split both on the leadership level and among reform advocates between those who believe a floor debate would be useful regardless of the final outcome and those who think the party would look bad if the bill goes down in flames.

“Sometimes you win by losing, and sometimes you just lose by losing,” said a senior GOP leadership aide. “The problem is we don’t have the votes.”

Republican sources said that Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was wary of bringing the measure to the floor without the necessary support for passage, while Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is inclined to push forward with the vote.

“This is the best vehicle we have had in a long time to have a broad debate about budget reform,” DeLay said Tuesday.

The base vehicle for the debate will be a budget enforcement measure Nussle drafted that will apply “pay as you go” rules to mandatory spending and impose caps on discretionary spending.

Despite their protracted discussions, Nussle and Young have been unable to reach agreement on a basic budget enforcement measure that would not draw the ire of appropriators. Members of the spending panel support the idea of reining in mandatory expenditures but generally dismiss the idea of discretionary caps as unrealistic and unworkable.

Young met with his 13 subcommittee cardinals Tuesday evening to discuss the issue and the group emerged unanimously opposed to Nussle’s spending cap proposal, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

The situation is further complicated by the still undetermined lineup of proposed amendments. The leadership has not yet indicated which ones will be allowed to come to a vote.

“I’m under the impression that yes, we will be able to offer” our amendment, said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a leader of the most aggressive band of reform advocates.

Hensarling hopes to offer a package that would go well beyond Nussle’s proposal, including mechanisms that would allow enhanced rescissions of individual projects and implement sunset provisions for spending programs.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), meanwhile, said he is crafting an amendment with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would be more modest than Hensarling’s package and would be focused on giving the budget the force of law.

Gutknecht and Hensarling both expressed confidence that support for reform would materialize once a vote is called and Members are forced to take a position.

“My advice will be — even if the Whip count is 30 votes short — put it up there and have a vote,” the Minnesotan said.

But some Republicans are worried that Democrats will try to scuttle the whole enterprise by voting in favor of every proposed amendment, thereby dooming the resulting overloaded bill to failure on final passage. That could make it difficult for GOP lawmakers to head home over recess and tout their credentials as deficit hawks.

“You don’t advance anything by losing,” said a GOP lawmaker close to the leadership.