- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Republican leaders yesterday struggled to bridge a major gap between two factions in their party that threatens to doom their budget blueprint, slated to be considered today.

Conservatives want to hold the line on spending, but the more liberal Republicans are demanding spending increases before they’ll vote for the $2.73 trillion measure.

The budget vote — expected today or tomorrow — will be the first major test for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“I don’t think I’ve ever taken two Advil in the morning before coming to work, but I did today,” Mr. Boehner joked earlier this week, referring to the looming budget battle.

“We have a challenge. … We have people who want to spend more; we have people who want to spend less.”

House Republican leaders pledge that the House will indeed vote, before leaving this week, on the budget proposal, which sticks to President Bush’s discretionary spending cap of $873 billion. It places a near-freeze on most discretionary spending programs and boosts only defense and homeland security spending.

They’re fighting to stick to that cap — unlike the Senate, which approved its $2.8 trillion budget blueprint after breaking through the cap by $16 billion.

Senators voted to add $9 billion to the $873 billion cap and then added $7 billion that’s to be paid for using advance appropriations from fiscal 2008.

House Republican leaders met with both wings of their party yesterday, trying to reach agreement. The more liberal wing is trying to boost the $873 billion to $880 billion, with the extra $7 billion going to health, education and low-income heating programs.

Conservatives, meanwhile, demand that leaders commit to hold specific votes on tougher budget-enforcement rules, designed to rein in spending.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said they’re “making steady progress on that,” but he warned that if moderates succeed in pushing the budget beyond the $873 billion cap, “we’d probably have a meltdown on our hands.”

For most conservatives, “the president’s number is the ceiling,” Mr. Pence said.

One Republican aide said both sides seemed “dug in” at midday. “I don’t know how they get the votes,” the aide said.

“We’re talking to all our people about all their ideas,” Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said yesterday.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, was among the conservatives who met with leaders yesterday. They want specific dates that the House will consider budget reform, including line-item veto authority and a commission to eliminate wasteful programs.

They also are pushing leaders to agree to aggressive earmark reform. The latter is “the heavy lift,” Mr. Flake said, because members who craft annual spending bills “fiercely resist” such reform.

Meanwhile, the more liberal Republicans are “holding very firm” on more education and health care spending, which they contend has been slashed in the current budget, said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

“Americans do want them to rein in spending, but they don’t want to give up quality education or health care,” she said.

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