By Patrick OConnor - 04/06/06 12:00 AM EDT
House Republican leaders face unique obstacles in tackling this week’s budget vote, which will be a major test for them in the wake of the decision by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to resign.
The political uncertainty created by the coming midterm elections, coupled with a new leadership team and a strong belief among members that the House and Senate will not reach an eventual compromise, make this year’s vote tougher than most.
The budget bill is always difficult for members of the majority, but the House and Senate are already going in separate directions, making members increasingly wary to cast a vote that could haunt their reelection campaigns if the bill will never become law.
The Senate-passed measure added almost $9 billion in discretionary spending to the overall budget number requested by the White House. The House, by contrast, is expected to vote on a bill that matches the administration’s request.
“It’s harder this year because we’ve never brought a budget to the floor, in my time, after the Senate has passed its own bill,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “The Senate always takes a more generous approach to the budget than we do, or the president does.”
With the two chambers moving in opposite directions, many members are concerned that it would be difficult for leaders to combine both bills.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who has voted against previous versions of the House budget before supporting a House-Senate compromise, said he might do the same thing this year, although any vote on a compromise would depend on development of a compromise.
“At this point, I’ve told leadership that I’m not going to commit to anything,” Gerlach said.
Other members see the vote as an unnecessary test during what has become a difficult stretch for the Republican Party.
“This is just a one-year budget,” said one Republican member who supports the budget bill. “It doesn’t fit into any long-term goal. It’s just something on our plate, rather than something as Republicans we feel strongly about. No one’s excited about it.”
Votes in favor of the budget are always among the toughest that members cast each year, and deals are rarely struck until the bill is on its way to the floor. The upcoming midterm elections make that task even tougher for leaders as they prepare to bring a bill to the floor, but House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains committed to passing a bill and has taken a major role in the negotiations.
There is much on the line for Boehner, who has vowed to pass a budget this year. If the vote is postponed, it will be viewed as a major political setback for the majority leader.
Unlike his predecessor, Boehner will not promise pork to get votes. He also does not want to hold roll-call votes open beyond the normal 17 minutes.
Democrats are expected to oppose the bill universally, meaning GOP leaders must find all of the necessary votes on their own side of the aisle.
“I think we will have 100 percent of the Blue Dogs against the Republican budget,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday. “In other words, I think that they will unanimously reject the extraordinarily reckless fiscal policies included in the Republican budget.”
Votes on budget resolutions are always tight. At least three Democrats — Reps. Lane Evans (Ill.), John Tanner (Tenn.) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.) — will probably miss the vote. The old House seat of new Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is vacant and will not be filled until after the election, hampering Democratic hopes of defeating the budget resolution.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) missed votes last week because he was ill but will be voting on the budget this week. The seat held by Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) until his resignation last year also remains vacant.
Blunt, Boehner and members of the leadership staff met separately with small groups of centrist and conservative Republicans on Tuesday morning in Boehner’s office to discuss each group’s respective demands.
On the conservative side, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Reps. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and John Shadegg (Ariz.) met with the two leaders to discuss each of their four separate requests to reform the budget process.
Pence said leaders had agreed to schedule a floor vote on the line-item veto legislation that President Bush has requested. He said the leaders would also give them floor time to debate the creation of a sunset commission that would review federal programs that receive taxpayer funding.
Earmark reform remains the sticking point in the negotiations between conservatives and the leadership. Conservatives, led by Flake and Shadegg, would like House members to be able to vote on any earmarked funding that is added to a House-Senate compromise bill before that legislation reaches the floor of either chamber. The proposal is intended to limit those projects that are “airdropped” into legislation without majority consent.
In addition to the obvious objections by appropriators in both chambers, even Shadegg conceded that the proposed changes could slow things down if members of both chambers had to vote on each project. The change would also curtail the ability of party leaders to dangle projects in exchange for support on tough votes.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) met with Boehner later in the day, but the chairman said afterward that earmark reform was not discussed. In his mind, the issue had already been resolved, Lewis said.
The administration has been generally supportive of these spending restraints, and Pence and Hensarling had a chance encounter with newly appointed White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in the Capitol hallway upon leaving their meeting. The two members had a brief, amiable chat with Bolten before answering the questions of a few reporters staking out their meeting with the leaders.
As Pence and Hensarling finished their meeting with leadership staff, Blunt and Boehner moved to another conference room to meet with centrist Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.).
Afterward, Castle, who earlier this week requested that leaders reinstate more than $7 billion in funding for education, health and social programs, was less than optimistic that the leaders would accept his request.
With leaders unlikely to increase spending in the bill, the question is how many centrists will join with Democrats in opposing it. Heading into a regular meeting of the centrist Tuesday Group, Castle could not say how many members he expected to join him.
“Obviously, they need some votes,” Castle said. “Otherwise, they would not meet with us for 45 minutes.”
Unless changes are made, Castle will vote against the bill, he said. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is also a firm no vote.
Andrew Barr, Bob Cusack, Josephine Hearn, Karissa Marcum and Kelly McCormack contributed to this article.
House Republicans Voting No on Budget Resolution
Mike Castle (Del.) *
Ron Paul (Texas) *
House Republicans Who May Vote No
Gresham Barrett (S.C.)
Charlie Bass (N.H.)
Judy Biggert (Ill.)
Steve Buyer (Ind.)
Charlie Dent (Pa.)
Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.)
Mike Ferguson (N.J.)
Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.)
Trent Franks (Ariz.)
Scott Garrett (N.J.)
Jim Gerlach (Pa.) *
Wayne Gilchrest (Md.)
Virgil Goode (Va.) *
Mark Green (Wis.)
Gil Gutknecht (Minn.)
Joel Hefley (Colo.) *
Jeb Hensarling (Texas)
John Hostettler (Ind.) *
Nancy Johnson (Conn.) *
Timothy Johnson (Ill.) *
Walter Jones (N.C.) *
Mark Kirk (Ill.)
Steven LaTourette (Ohio)
Jim Leach (Iowa) *
Frank LoBiondo (N.J.)
John McHugh (N.Y.) *
Jerry Moran (Kan.)
Bob Ney (Ohio)
Tom Osborne (Neb.)
Mike Pence (Ind.)
Todd Platts (Pa.) *
Jon Porter (Nev.)
Jim Ramstad (Minn.)
Rick Renzi (Ariz.)
Jim Saxton (N.J.)
Joe Schwarz (Mich.)
John Shadegg (Ariz.)
Christopher Shays (Conn.) *
Rob Simmons (Conn.) *
Chris Smith (N.J.) *
John Sweeney (N.Y.)
Fred Upton (Mich.)
Ed Whitfield (Ky.)
Heather Wilson (N.M.)
* These members have voted against multiple budget bills over the past couple of years