- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A key budget negotiator said that Congress won’t produce a final budget this year if the Senate keeps adding spending while the House wants steeper funding cuts.

“I hate to be a naysayer about this at all, but I’m not sure how we get a conference with the Senate, with the product where they’re at,” said Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Some Senate Republicans are trying to eliminate the $14.6 billion in reductions over the next five years to Medicaid spending, called for by the Republican leaders’ budget. But Mr. Nussle said that would prevent a budget from passing.

“Last year, at least, they were at least, I think, trying. This year, I think, they almost gave up before they started the process,” he said.

The budget is being debated on the Senate floor already, and heads to the House floor later this week.

Even as Mr. Nussle takes aim at the Senate, though, he is working to quash an insurrection from conservative House Republicans, who are threatening to vote against the budget unless it includes new rules to restrain spending.

“I am absolutely confident I will not vote for the budget if we cannot enforce the will of the majority on the budget,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, who is leading a group of members ready to vote against the budget. “We think we have a significant number of conservatives, some moderates and even some liberals.”

Mr. Pence and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, met with House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, yesterday afternoon to work out a deal, but neither side moved. Party leaders said the study committee, if successful, would lose “credibility” simply to prove a point.

“If it is successful, it would bring down the best budget the country has seen for years and years,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, said he has the 51 votes needed to return the $14.6 billion to Medicaid. Instead of the cuts this year, Mr. Smith will offer an amendment to study the program’s needs.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is opposing that move, but said he doesn’t know if he has the votes to defend the Medicaid reductions.

“It would be truly bad policy if they weren’t [included]. It would undermine the ability to effectively put in place a budget that is real,” he said.

Mr. Nussle said if the Senate moves backward on entitlement spending, it will hurt the chances to reach a House-Senate compromise on the budget.

“We’re not going to budge when it comes to controlling spending,” he said.

In the event a budget compromise can’t be reached, Mr. Nussle and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said they will assume the House budget numbers have passed, and then count on President Bush to enforce those figures through the threat of a veto.

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