President Bush and Republican congressional leaders made a last ditch effort on Thursday to win support of Senate moderates in their own party for a budget they charge does not do enough to control record deficits.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved by just three votes a $2.4 trillion budget for 2005. But the resolution looks doomed in the closely divided Senate where a handful of moderate Republicans have said they will vote against it.
Failure to get the Senate's rubber stamp would be a major headache for Republicans ahead of the November elections. It would make it harder to make permanent some of the tax cuts at the heart of Bush's economic plan and it would force an embarrassing debate on raising the limit on the nation's debt the third time in three years.
"I urge the Senate to follow the House's lead and pass this budget so that we can continue making progress on our shared agenda of building a safer, stronger, and better America," Bush said in a statement after meeting with House and Senate Republicans.
Republicans have not yet decided whether to start debating the budget. Earlier this week Senate Budget Committee Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, said he hoped for a vote on Thursday before lawmakers leave for a weeklong recess on Friday.
Senate moderates are concerned about the growing budget shortfall, which is expected to top $400 billion this year. They want to make sure any new tax cuts or extensions of tax cuts are paid for with savings from other areas of the budget.
"We have to pay for our tax cuts," said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate from Rhode Island who has said he will not vote for the budget.
Lawmakers negotiating the details of the budget have had to tread a fine line between the Senate and conservative Republicans in the House. The conservatives, with the backing of the White House, want to make sure Republican tax-cutting credentials are on full display ahead of November's presidential and congressional elections.
Democrats say the internal Republican disagreements underscore Bush's party's difficulties in getting legislation done, even with their control of the White House and Congress.
"Republican's infighting and refusal to abandon their right-wing agenda have stalled the 2005 budget, which is key to reining in out-of-control deficits," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
"Republicans have made it clear that "doing nothing" is their campaign strategy," he added.
Democrats are also unhappy with the budget, which assumes military spending for Iraq and Afghanistan of $50 billion next year on top of $166 billion already allocated. They blame Bush's tax cuts for turning his inherited surplus into deficit .
They also point to recent comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan who said the deficit is a threat to economic stability and the future of Social Security payments.