- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is unlikely to make his self-imposed Memorial Day deadline for adopting a fiscal 2003 budget blueprint, leaving House leaders to use their budget in the appropriations process and Senate appropriators without a framework.

Mr. Daschle, who on Tuesday said the bill would get done before the start of the Memorial Day break, said yesterday that may not be possible.

"I'm not as optimistic as I once was let me put it that way," the South Dakota Democrat said, though he hadn't written off the possibility. "Obviously, I'd love to do it. And if there is way to address the budget before the next recess, we're going to try to do that."

But with the pending trade legislation, Republicans said the Senate will not be able to get to the budget before the end of next week.

"It's highly impossible that the so-called Memorial Day game plan will work," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici from New Mexico, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, who said not passing a budget was an abdication of Democrats' responsibility.

"The more I talk to people, they're absolutely amazed [that Democrats are saying] it's too hard so we're not going to do it," Mr. Domenici said.

Usually the president submits his budget and then each chamber constructs its budget, based on the president's. House and Senate negotiators then meet to hash out a compromise budget, which the appropriations committee is supposed to follow.

But Republicans doubt that Democrats will bring a budget to the Senate floor this year.

"I never thought they were going to bring a budget up," said Assistant Minority Leader Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Budget Committee, who called the Democrats' action "grossly irresponsible."

Anticipating that outcome, President Bush on Wednesday told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting, "The Senate can't pass a budget, so I will be the budget enforcer."

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said there is still a chance that everything could come together next week. He said they were "pretty close" to agreement on the three individual pieces of the package that the Democrats want to construct the budget, an increase in the debt ceiling and an emergency supplemental appropriation "but bringing it all together is pretty difficult."

He also said part of the problem is that the Bush administration keeps throwing new issues into the pile by demanding quick action on the debt limit and the emergency appropriation.

"The goal is to deal with all these outstanding issues," he said. "What happens is the workload keeps getting added to."

The House passed its budget resolution on March 20. The Senate Budget Committee approved its own resolution the next day. But since then there has been no action as Mr. Daschle tried to work out a blueprint that could gain acceptance within his own caucus.

Republicans said that without action, this would be the first time since the 1974 Budget Act that the Senate has failed to pass a budget. They said failing to pass a budget would cost Democrats some credibility when criticizing Republicans' budget.

"You have the right to criticize, but if you're going to criticize, you also have the responsibility to say, 'I'm opposed to your plan, here's my plan,'" said House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. from Oklahoma.

Because the House did pass a budget, conservative Republicans said they want House appropriators to stick to those numbers, which closely track the president's request of big increases in defense spending and small increases in domestic spending.

"There's only one budget in town," said Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the Budget Committee.

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