With House Republican leaders saying this week that a budget resolution may not be necessary, Democrats are taking aim and accusing the GOP of backpedaling.
On Monday, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that if conferees could not work out the difference between the two chambers’ tax-cut numbers, Congress might not pass a budget.
Tuesday, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) echoed Blunt’s assessment, albeit with a bit of hedging.
"It probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world ... but the alternative of having a budget is preferable to not having one," DeLay said.
Seizing on DeLay’s comments, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that less than a year ago Republicans chastised the Democratic-led Senate for failing to pass a budget blueprint.
"I hope you are duly shocked, chagrined and taken aback by my counterpart’s quote," Hoyer told reporters, referring to Blunt’s words.
"How often did you hear last year ... that the reason we weren’t able to function was because we didn’t have a budget, because those Democrats in the Senate have not passed a budget and that, therefore, we couldn’t put appropriation bills on the floor?" he asked. "How many Republicans do you know in the House who said that?"
While budget conferees still want to report out a resolution, negotiations appear to be stalled as conservative Republicans are pressuring House leaders to stick with the full $726 billion tax-cut and economic growth package proposed by President Bush and moderate Senators refuse to budge beyond $350 billion in tax cuts.
The Republican Study Group, led by Rep. Sue Myrick (N.C.), is circulating a letter saying it will not support a resolution with only $350 billion in tax cuts. Meanwhile, moderates in the Senate have said $350 billion is their upper limit.
"If we had the votes [to pass a bigger tax cut] I wouldn’t be out here saying we are still working on it," Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) conceded Tuesday afternoon.
DeLay criticized moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) for refusing to support a bigger tax cut.
"They have every right to do what they’re doing; it’s just that I think they’re misguided," DeLay said.
Despite the obstacles, the official line is still that a budget resolution will pass before Congress adjourns Friday.
"We will finish by Friday," Santorum said.
DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy agreed, adding that it is still early in the week and a lot can happen before Friday.
Hoyer was dubious of such claims, however.
"The budget, they say it is going to be on the floor ... but, as you know, they are having real problems in their own party coming to a consensus on what they want the budget to do," he said.
More certain is the supplemental — leaders of both parties think that a compromise between the House’s $77.9 billion emergency war spending plan and the Senate’s $79.6 billion proposal will be reached by Friday.
The biggest negotiating hurdle there is likely to be the White House, as both bills go beyond the president’s request and include provisions the administration does not want in the bill, such as aid for the struggling airline industry.
The House measure also includes an amendment that would prohibit certain countries, which do not support the war in Iraq, from winning reconstruction contracts.
"I think we got our message across," DeLay said about the amendment, adding that House leaders are willing to let it drop if that is what the White House wants.
But as for Bush’s demands for greater control over how to spend the almost $80 billion, the House won’t budge, DeLay said.
"In my opinion we gave them more than enough flexibility in spending money," DeLay said.
Ben Pershing contributed to this report.