- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

When House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis convinced enough of his 36 fellow Republican appropriators to join him in opposing the election-year budget put forward by House Republican leaders, he effectively torpedoed passage of the 2007 budget resolution. That meant that hundreds of his colleagues had to go home for the two-week Easter recess to face voters bristling with pent-up anger over the failure of the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House to get a handle on the out-of-control spending that has contributed to recent budget deficits.

The fact that the House had just failed to pass a budget resolution made the recess a lot more difficult for most Republican congressmen. Unlike Mr. Lewis, nearly all his Republican colleagues faced a Democratic opponent in 2004 and did not win their elections with 83 percent of the vote. Turning out the Republican base mattered to them in 2004 and will matter again this year.

Bowing to election-year considerations of moderate Republicans, the fiscal 2007 budget blueprint that emerged from the House Budget Committee called for less than $7 billion in savings over five years from soaring entitlement programs. In the middle of a crisis over oil and natural-gas prices, the House budget also excluded any provision to exploit the vast oil and gas reserves in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, again to appease the moderate wing.

In exchange for tolerating spending levels higher than they preferred and an energy-policy decision they opposed, House conservatives negotiated several modest reforms that might have slowed the Washington spending machine. House Republican leaders promised floor votes on a line-item rescission bill and the establishment of a sunset commission to identify programs for termination.

A third reform, rejected by appropriators, was a new rule that would have helped legislators challenge earmarked spending projects, which are frequently inserted into spending bills during the dead of night. A fourth reform, also rejected by the appropriators, would have required the budget panel to approve any non-defense emergency spending that exceeded a “rainy day” floor.

For years Congress has circumvented agreed spending caps by loading up “emergency” supplemental appropriations with non-emergency spending. Just before leaving town, for example, the Senate added $15 billion to President Bush’s $92 billion supplemental-spending request for Katrina and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even these modest reform proposals proved to be too much for Republican appropriators, who gave the Republican Party’s base a big reason to stay home in November.

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