House GOP in no rush for a deal

Republican leaders in the House are willing to wait until next year to pass several big-ticket legislative items that are still pending, signaling yesterday that they will not rush to compromise with the Senate.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told members of the Republican Conference yesterday during their weekly meeting that the House position on the pending legislation is “worth fighting for,” one GOP leadership aide said.

Referring indirectly to the conference reports on tax and spending reconciliation, Blunt told members they should hold out for the largest possible spending cuts and the most tax relief chamber negotiators can secure in passing the bills in question, even if that means waiting “a few weeks.”

“Whatever work we can get done this year, we should do everything we can in the next few days to get it done,” Blunt told reporters Tuesday. “Whatever we don’t get done, this is not, again, the end of the Congress; this is the end of the year.”

Members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) overwhelmingly urged their chairman, Mike Pence (R-Ind.), to request that leadership bring the reconciliation bill to the floor this year with or without a provision to allow for oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to a conservative aide.

Bicameral discontent is common in Congress at the end of the year as leaders in both chambers try to reconcile conference reports on a laundry list of bills and close the year with a legislative flurry.

With House passage yesterday of the USA Patriot Act and the expected passage of the labor, health and education appropriations bill, leaders are expected to bring a border-security bill to the floor today that would create new employer identification standards.

In addition, Blunt told reporters yesterday that he might also schedule a vote on a bill to reform pension funding after Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) struck a deal with the United Auto Workers that secured Democratic support.

That leaves the fates of both reconciliation packages, the defense reauthorization bill and a conference report to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act uncertain as leaders try to get members out of town for the holiday recess.

With limited floor time and a heavy schedule of bills left to pass, House and Senate leaders are waiting for the various conference committees on each of these bills to negotiate compromise language that could attract a majority of votes.

Because the bills are not considered must-pass in 2005, lawmakers are not as pressed as they are at the end of the Congress because each of the issues can be revisited next year.

But with the bar already set, leaders are facing pressure to complete at least the border-security bill and the conference report on the Deficit Reduction Act, which seeks to trim spending in several federal programs.

“It doesn’t matter if the House or Senate doesn’t get it done,” one GOP aide in the House said. “It’ll be viewed as the Republican Congress, and that is why we’ve got to buckle down and get it done.”

On top of that, Blunt said leaders must pass a continuing resolution to fund whatever federal programs have not been addressed through the appropriations process. That prospect could allow Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) to craft a yearlong extension that would cut some level of federal spending, a prospect that leaders may be floating to prevent Democrats from opposing the remaining spending bills.

During his opening remarks of the debate about the reissued labor and health spending bill, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the appropriations cardinal overseeing the legislation, threatened Democratic opponents with the prospect of a continuing resolution that would substantially cut spending in a number of government health and education programs.

The focus, though, is on the border bill and a bill to curb federal spending.

“Our goal is to get the deficit-reduction bill done and the border-security bill,” said Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “We’re working with the Senate to get it done, and we’re pulling out all the stops.”

Blunt said he is committed to working through the weekend, if necessary, and perhaps into next week — “if absolutely essential” — before adding “I’m not sure that anybody believes we’ll continue to have the enthusiasm to do that much next week.”

Asked Tuesday whether he thought it was essential to pass the spending side of reconciliation, Blunt said, “Not so essential that we have to give up our negotiating position on a number of issues. … I think it’s better to get that right than to get it quickly, but it would be best of all to get that both right and quickly.

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