House Republicans endured a rare legislative setback last week, as dozens of their own Members voted with Democrats to kill a budget enforcement measure that some GOP leaders were reluctant to bring to the floor in the first place.
The bill, which was sponsored by Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), failed on a 268-146 tally after 72 Republicans joined 195 Democrats and one Independent in voting no.
Republican sources said that before the vote Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) had expressed doubt about the wisdom of bringing the measure to the floor without the necessary support for passage.
“He always does,” said a Republican lawmaker close to the leadership. “He never likes to lose a vote.”
Despite those concerns and some discussion of pulling the measure, the bill came to the floor because Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had made a firm promise to reform advocates that they would get a vote this session.
Also, one senior Republican lawmaker said many of his colleagues believed that if they pulled the bill it would be “the wound that never heals,” worse than merely having the measure fail on the floor.
After the bill and several proposed amendments were defeated, Republican opinions were mixed on whether the whole endeavor had been worthwhile.
“I’m not a good loser,” said Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), one of the leading advocates of budget reform. “On the other hand, I’m glad we had a good debate.”
Gutknecht suggested that the discussion was a clarifying one that would have an impact on future spending decisions by Congress.
“Now we have a better idea who’s wearing the shirts and who’s wearing the skins,” he said. “I think the leadership knows now that there are 120 to 145 people who take this stuff seriously.”
Other Republicans were less enthused.
“It was a non-event. It was a waste of seven hours,” grumbled a GOP Member who voted in favor of the Nussle bill.
Democrats, meanwhile, immediately pounced on the bill’s failure, lumping it with the House and Senate GOP’s inability to agree on a budget as evidence that Republicans are dysfunctional managers of the government’s finances.
“Tonight can aptly be called ‘Republican Budget Failure Redux,’” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement after the vote. “Republicans have followed their total lack of leadership on the most basic legislative duty — to adopt a budget for the nation — with a total lack of leadership on real budget enforcement legislation.”
But Republicans countered that Democrats had little credibility on fiscal discipline issues.
“I think it’s ironic that the Democrats even try to talk about spending controls given their record on spending,” said Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
In particular, Republicans pointed to the vote Thursday on Rep. David Obey’s (D-Wis.) amendment to the fiscal 2005 budget that would have raised $19 billion by increasing taxes on millionaires while boosting federal spending and reducing the deficit.
Republicans used that measure — which failed, 230-184 — to describe Democrats as both fiscally reckless and similarly divided as a Caucus, but Democrats rejected those charges.
“Yeah, but did we lose 72 of our own people voting against the amendment? There’s a huge difference,” said a Democratic leadership aide.