House GOP leaders pull budget-reconciliation bill


In a strong sign of splintered loyalty, House Republican leaders postponed the vote on a contentious budget bill late Thursday in the face of universal Democratic opposition and wavering support from GOP lawmakers.

In a strong sign of splintered loyalty, House Republican leaders postponed the vote on a contentious budget bill late Thursday in the face of universal Democratic opposition and wavering support from GOP lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) conceded that GOP leaders did not have the votes necessary to pass the sweeping reconciliation bill, which seeks to cut around $50 billion in federal spending while reorganizing some federal programs, such as Medicaid, and making funding changes to others like student loans, food stamps and pension insurance.

“We had just not got there yet,” Blunt told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference Thursday afternoon. “The product we had today wasn’t quite where it needed to be.”

Blunt, acting in his dual role as majority whip, said GOP leaders decided to postpone the vote primarily in response to member requests to attend previously scheduled Veteran’s Day events tomorrow before he conceded that he could not find the votes to win on the floor.

Blunt’s spokeswoman said GOP leaders were working to win last-minute support on the reconciliation bill in time for western members to catch their flights home but “the clock ran out.”

Republican leaders have struggled to win support from their membership on the politically difficult budget bill, which seeks to trim federal spending in a number of social welfare programs, as Democrats have rallied around their leaders in opposition to the legislation.

In order to win support from centrist Republicans, GOP leaders dropped provisions Wednesday night to allow oil drilling on the coastal shelf and in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In addition, leadership revised at least one of the funding changes to the federal food stamp program at the request of Hispanic Republicans.

The rule attached to this bill allows Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) to change its language any time before the bill comes to the floor, meaning he and Republican House leaders can add or subtract specific provisions without bringing the legislation back to the Rules Committee.

In floor remarks Thursday after the vote was postponed, Blunt said the House would consider a vote on the budget or the tax-reconciliation bill next week, but he would not commit to a vote on either. The tax bill, which is the second step in a three-step reconciliation process, would extend around $70 billion of pre-existing tax cuts.

The concession on drilling and food-stamp funding was expected to lay the groundwork for successful passage of the contentious bill early Thursday, but removing ANWR created countervailing opposition to the legislation that prevented leaders from bringing the bill to the floor.

At an afternoon press conference, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), a fervent proponent of oil drilling in ANWR, declined to answer a question about whether or not he would vote for the bill.  Before leaders stripped ANWR from the bill, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) expressed concern that removing the provision would create more opposition than keeping it.

A GOP leadership aide said Barton and Pombo were reluctant to support the bill but were not actively working against it. A handful of other members had lingering issues with the legislation, that same aide said. Those concerns eventually forced leadership to postpone the vote.

Members were largely in the dark on the status of the legislation throughout the afternoon as they waited to depart for the three-day weekend as leadership met with individual members to discuss their particular concerns.

Democrats took the occasion of the postponement to criticize the legislation and reiterated the commitment to fighting the bill.

“We don’t think this fight is over,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “This nastiness will continue next week.”

Republicans in tight districts have been concerned about the political ramifications of voting for program cuts one week and then voting to extend tax cuts, particularly the dividend tax cuts, that favor upper-income voters. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) signaled its intention to highlight this vote during next year’s midterm election.

During their afternoon press conference, DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said: “These guys aren’t ready for primetime because their policies…aren’t ready for primetime.”

At an afternoon press conference, Democratic leaders amplified the significance of that last-minute wrangling by Republican leaders.

“The fundamentals of this bill were wrong,” Pelosi said.