Partisan sparring continues over nonexistent budget

Democrats and Republicans have reached a rare area of agreement -- there aren't enough votes to pass a budget in the House.

But that's where the agreement ends.

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Republicans have argued that by not taking up the 2011 budget, the majority party is showing it can’t govern. Democrats counter that they've pushed too many tough votes through the House to force another one before Election Day.

On Thursday Republicans threw a new charge into the mix: that Democrats had admitted they've thrown in the towel on a budget.

Top House Republicans seized on a pair of statements from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) which seemed to suggest that Democrats have already moved their focus onto the appropriations process. Republicans claim this is evidence the majority has given up on trying to pass a budget designed to serve as a blueprint for those appropriations bills.

"We have several ways in which to meet our responsibility in terms of bringing our appropriations bills to the floor," Pelosi told reporters. "Whatever decisions we make about how we go forward will be to meet the needs of the American people, to do so in a way that reduces the deficit, and that it meets our goal of cutting the deficit in half in five years."

A few hours later, Hoyer said during his end-of-the-week colloquy with Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that he was "certainly hopeful that we will deal with the issue of spending levels by the time we bring appropriation bills to the floor."

"We are working on that," Hoyer continued.

As of last week, both Pelosi and Hoyer had said they were continuing to work on producing a budget. A budget resolution binds Congress, but is not law. It also serves as a blueprint for the actual appropriations process, which spends the money suggested by the budget.

Republicans immediately seized on the Democratic leaders’ new language.

House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office quickly released a statement "in response to the announcement by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) that Congressional Democrats will not pass a budget resolution this year."

House Appropriations Committee Ranking Republican Jerry Lewis (Calif.) soon followed, saying that Republicans had taken Hoyer's statement as a firm declaration that no budget would be forthcoming.

"Today, we learned that the House Democrats are completely disregarding one of the most basic duties of Congress and are not going to produce a basic budget blueprint this year – for the first time in 30 years," Lewis said in a statement. "And, in the midst of this, Democrat leaders are crafting a huge emergency spending bill which will cost billions in taxpayer dollars."

Hoyer's office declined to comment on those claims. But earlier that day senior Democratic aides said leaders were still having discussions with various groups within the caucus to gauge support for possible budget scenarios, including budgets with non-defense-related discretionary spending cuts that dozens of conservative Democrats say are needed to win their support.

At the same time, there was no denying that little progress has been made on finding a number palatable to a majority of Democrats. And the window for a budget is closing, both logistically and politically.

"Last year's budget was not exactly easy," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the Budget Committee. "It's almost Memorial Day. Beyond that it's an exercise in futility. It might be already."

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