Analysis: Budget delays and political hopes

For Immediate Release:

July 8, 2004

Contact:CHRISTIAN BOURGE

United Press International

But the move to debate such bills has impacts beyond politics, because it means delays, in the minds of many, unneeded delays in the annual budge process.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday that a pile of unapproved appropriations legislation is a real possibility at the end of the year.

"I think a dog pile may be an appropriate phrase for what we may be facing, and I won't go into what kind of pile you may be referring to," Daschle said when a reporter asked him if the appropriators face a future "dog pile" of bills.

"There can be no more important work left to be done in the Senate than these appropriations bills. I hope the majority leader will recognize that and schedule the time to accommodate those vital pieces of legislation."

Although the move by Frist to delay appropriations in favor of legislation appealing directly to core Republican voters may help rally the party base, it could backfire in the end.

In fact, one Republican Senate aide noted that even among those voters who actually pay attention to such arcane matters as the federal budget process, summer is typically a time when politicians get a little slack because heat-related malaise and vacations get in the way of electorate interest.

"It's summer -- no one in paying attention," the GOP aide told United Press International. "Come fall, the election will probably overshadow everything or we could just look stupid as voters actually look at what Congress is doing before they vote."

In addition, the move only delays a situation that GOP leaders clearly would like to avoid altogether -- intra-party fights over key issues -- leaving them in the difficult position of brokering deals within their own party on key votes while fighting off Democratic attacks and negotiating with their political opposition to keep the process moving forward.

Among the key issues expected to flare up the factions with differing views within the Republican caucus during the appropriations battle are allowing reimportation of prescription drugs, efforts to ban the government outsourcing of jobs and the fight over funding for the storage of high-level nuclear waste at the federal Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada.

These are beyond the host of issues Democrats will seek to use to gain voter support, including education and children's health spending along with blocking the implementation of Bush administration-proposed changes in the nation's overtime-compensation rules.

The move to delay appropriations action in the Senate also helps intensify the partisan politics at play in the process -- not necessarily the best thing during an election year -- by playing to Democratic criticisms of Republican control of the House, Senate and White House.

Single-party control of two of the three branches of government has not traditionally been something the U.S. electorate has whole-heartedly embraced, a fact that Democrats are counting on in November.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday that the budget delays typify the GOP handling of the policy process.

"This continues to be a do-nothing Congress," said Hoyer. "Republicans refuse to work in a bipartisan way and are mired in their ideological differences; therefore, nothing happens."

When asked by UPI Wednesday about the Senate appropriations delays, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, decried the obstructionist tactics of Senate Democrats and pledged to use the House budget bills -- which are moving along -- to help push the process forward.

"The lowest common denominator in the Senate are the Senate Democrats," said DeLay. "We are investigating all kinds of ways to get around Democrats obstructionism."

But such sentiments are not necessarily shared across the Republican congressional caucus, with some Republican budget hawks decrying the lack of action on budget and appropriations with their party in control of the process.

Former Senate Majority Leader and deficit hawk Trent Lott, R-Miss., was quoted in the New Republic magazine in June as saying that not only is the budget process the "most fundamental task of a legislative majority" but that nothing else more clearly defines how the party in power is using its control.

Another formerly prominent conservative Republican leader, former House Leader Dick Armey of Texas, has also made headlines this year criticizing the deficit and spending picture resulting from congressional budget action, which he has said can only be pinned on Republicans because they control Washington these days.

Beyond the decision by GOP leaders to delay major appropriations floor action, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has stopped all pending markups of spending bills until Democrats agree to accept limits on Senate floor debate over the still unwritten measures.

As could be expected, Democrats scoffed at the idea and are unlikely to give up very much of the leverage not having a budget resolution gives them in the appropriations process after being mostly shut out of policymaking in the Senate since the GOP returned to power in the body during President Bush's second year in office.

With only the 2005 defense-spending bill having passed the Senate and only one other measure, the Homeland Security Bill, approved by the Appropriations Committee at this time, the likelihood of Republicans ultimately pushing a catchall 2005 spending bill that Democrats, who oppose such a move, would not be able to amend on the Senate floor grows each day.

Critics have long decried such measures because they are largely unwieldy vehicles that typically mask a host of legislative surprises and pork spending.

The question on the minds of most congressional insiders and watchers is likely not if, but when it will come.