House Dems balk at quick fix to budget reconciliation typo

House and Senate Democratic leaders are divided on how to resolve the constitutional issues dogging the budget-reconciliation bill signed by President Bush on Wednesday.

Democrats in the House are sending signals that they will not accede to the Republican leadership’s evident desire to execute a quick fix. Clerical errors led to the House’s passing slightly different language than the Senate did.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already signed off on the favored Republican strategy of adopting a concurrent resolution emphasizing that the legislation endorsed by the president represents the intent of Congress. The Senate agreed to the resolution Wednesday night under unanimous consent several hours after the president signed the budget bill.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, is said to be considering an effort to obstruct the GOP leadership’s expected effort to get a unanimous-consent agreement through the House this week.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who served as majority and minority leader, commended Reid for being “magnanimous” in consenting to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) plan, but agreed that House Democrats should act.

“There is still a certain degree … of [a] more cooperative environment in the Senate procedurally than there is in the House,” Daschle said. “It’s probably to Senator Reid’s credit” that he did not stand in the way of Frist’s action, he said. “The important point needed to be made in the House in particular,” Daschle said.

Daschle blamed the snafu on “a remarkable level of sloppiness, mismanagement and decisions being made a the last minute.” Because of “a clerical mistake handled very poorly,” he said, the bill has not been made law.

House Republicans have not indicated exactly what they plan to do, but aides have downplayed the significance of the problem. The Senate-passed resolution is not listed on the weekly floor agenda on House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) website.

At least one senior House Democrat has made it clear that he would oppose any such effort. In a strongly worded letter sent to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Friday, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) expressed “outrage and deep disappointment” about the situation.

Rangel also flatly rejected anything other than new votes in both chambers on the underlying bill. “The notion that the Senate could allegedly ‘fix’ this problem by passing a resolution that claims to convey ‘intent’ for the entire Congress is unprecedented.”

He further questions whether the bill has actually been enacted. “It is clear that the legislation signed by the president on Wednesday is not what actually passed the House of Representatives on February 1,” Rangel wrote. Rangel had not received acknowledgement of his letter by press time yesterday, according to a spokesman.

A House Republican leadership aide indicated that the GOP views that issue as settled. “We believe it’s law.”

Others differ, however. There is speculation on and off Capitol Hill that the matter could end up in court.

The Bush administration is forging ahead with the bill’s implementation. At a press briefing yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said, “I’m presuming that it’s law, and we’re moving forward on that basis.”

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