- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

The House Budget Committee yesterday passed a $2.6 trillion fiscal 2006 budget, which is under threat from conservative Republicans who say they will stall the resolution during next week’s floor debate if spending reforms are not included.

Fiscal conservatives had planned to introduce amendments at a markup hearing yesterday, but altered their plans after negotiating behind closed doors with the House leadership. They agreed to wait until floor debate begins Tuesday, said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

“We want more ability for members of the majority to enforce the budget of the majority on the floor of Congress,” Mr. Pence said. “We have to change the way we spend the people’s money. This is not about bad people; it is a bad process.”

The panel approved the budget by a party-line vote of 22-15. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to approve a similar $2.56 trillion outline today.

Mr. Pence leads a group of 90 House Republicans who want stricter enforcement of spending increases, including Budget Committee members Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Texas, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, and J. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina.

Their amendments would have called for the budget resolution to have the power of law, making its spending limits absolute and not an advisory protocol for appropriators. They also would have required a three-fifths vote to pass appropriations bills that exceed the budget caps.

“We are now willing to accept a simple majority vote [for spending increases] as a compromise” to get the reforms moving, Mr. Pence said.

At least one House Democrat on the committee, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, said he would support the reform plan.

“It sounds interesting. I don’t know about it, but it would be good if they talked with us,” Mr. Ford said. “Anything that would bring more sunlight to this process and get us closer to pay-go, I support.”

Democrats have argued for a return to “pay-as-you-go” budget rules requiring all spending increases be matched with equal or greater reductions, but some also want to subject tax cuts to that standard. Mr. Ford said President Bush was right to cut programs that aren’t working, “but some of the tax cuts are working and some are not.”

The inclusion of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts is a nonstarter for conservative Republicans, Mr. Pence said.

The tension was evident in the hearing yesterday as Democrats tried and failed to pass 25 amendments to increase funding for education, veterans’ health benefits and Medicaid, as well as a host of other changes, including eliminating some of the Bush tax cuts.

One Republican amendment, introduced by Rep. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire, did pass. The change provides a $229 million increase in the budget allocation for veterans’ benefits and services coupled with an equal decrease in spending levels for international affairs.

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