- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

House Republican leaders canceled a vote on their massive spending-cut bill yesterday to avoid an embarrassing defeat after being unable to muster enough votes to pass their proposal.

After days of feverish negotiations, the leadership tried to win support Wednesday night by removing the provision most egregious to liberal Republicans — one that would have allowed drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

But that angered some pro-drilling conservatives and still didn’t produce enough votes to pass the bill. Also, some liberal Republicans still had problems with other features of the bill, such as reductions in Medicaid spending.

“We were not quite where we needed to be to go to the floor,” said House Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri, referring to the 218 votes needed to pass the measure.

Leaders pledged to continue working to bring up the bill next week.

The Senate faced a similar problem yesterday, as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, was forced to postpone a panel vote on his $64.8 billion tax-cut extension package, because agreement couldn’t be reached with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a liberal Republican from Maine.

House Republican leaders blamed the delay partly on added pressure they were under yesterday to let members catch flights home for Veterans Day events today.

“We have run out of time today,” Mr. Blunt said.

The massive bill would have affected programs under the control of eight committees, leaving much open to objections from members.

The budget process has been the first real test for Mr. Blunt, who stepped into the post after Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, was indicted in late September.

Mr. Blunt and leaders failed weeks ago to bring to the floor a proposal that would have directed House committees to find more than the $35 billion in savings called for in their already passed budget . They decided to direct the committees privately to exceed that goal, without holding an official vote, because many Republicans didn’t want one.

But the resulting bill, which saves $54 billion, exposed a deeper divide in the party.

Conservatives, who pushed aggressively for it, said its spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs are crucial steps toward the smaller government that Republicans have always advocated.

But some more liberal members from less-Republican districts said steep spending cuts put them in political jeopardy heading into an election year, especially because Republican leaders insist they will also pass a massive tax-cut extension package soon.

“You’re setting yourself up,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and president of the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican, said he is opposing the bill because he is “against euthanasia” and doesn’t want to contribute to “the orderly demise of our majority.”

Upon hearing of the bill’s delay, Democrats declared a major victory for the future of their party, saying the public supports them in rejecting the Republican idea of cutting spending and also extending tax cuts this year.

“They’re pulling it today as a failure on the part of the Republicans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“Americans are rejecting those priorities,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. He added that Democratic victories in gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia this week only deepened the concern among the liberal Republicans.

“These guys aren’t ready for prime time because their policies aren’t ready,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat. “Democrats stopped them. We represent the future.”

Centrist House Republicans were elated early yesterday that their biggest gripe — allowing drilling in ANWR — had been removed from the bill.

“I conveyed the moderate Republicans’ concern with this provision and this damaging language has been removed,” said Rep. Charles Bass, New Hampshire Republican. He and 25 Republicans sent a letter this week to leaders demanding its removal.

The Senate budget-cut bill contains the ANWR provision, but its Senate champion tried to be calm regarding the House decision to remove it.

“It looks like something they had to do,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, adding that he will defend the Senate provision in conference. “I’ll be there.”

Rep. David Dreier, the California Republican who has assumed some majority leader duties, said leaders didn’t promise anyone that ANWR would be left out of a future conference.

But Mr. Bass said if the final bill returns from conference with ANWR in it, “I and other like-minded members will not vote for” it.

On the other handkey conservative committee chairmen Reps. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Richard W. Pombo of California have threatened to vote against any bill that doesn’t include ANWR drilling.

Conservative Republicans who fought for the bill were “profoundly disappointed” by the delay.

“We urge our colleagues to live up to the ideals of our party and our principles by supporting the Deficit Reduction Act and call on Congressional Leadership to schedule the bill for immediate consideration,” read a joint statement from Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana and the group’s budget and spending task force Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

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