Republicans pushed toward House passage on Thursday of their new budget plan after crushing a bipartisan alternative Wednesday night and smoothing out internal GOP differences over the handling for future funding for disasters.
Prodded by party leaders, the Budget Committee backtracked from its earlier demands that all such emergency assistance be fully offset within the strict spending caps set in the resolution. And House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers told POLITICO that he now feels free to “ignore” these demands, first spelled out Monday in a legislative report prepared by the Budget panel to explain the assumptions that underlie its fiscal blueprint.
The Kentucky Republican said he had the backing of the leadership and an understanding had been reached with Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) since the report’s release.
“You can’t fix it. It’s already in the report,” the Kentucky Republican told POLITICO. “But when the time comes for a bill to include disaster designated [funding], I will ignore that provision with the leadership’s understanding – and Paul Ryan’s.”
The disaster dispute had been a last loose end, needing to be tied down before Thursday’s final votes. The leadership appears increasingly confident, and it is helped now in fact by the highly partisan atmosphere in the House.
This was dramatized Wednesday night when both parties walked away from a fledgling bipartisan effort endorsed by major anti-deficit groups and embodying many of the recommendations by a presidential debt commission in the last Congress.
In a joint statement Wednesday, the commission’s two leaders — former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles, a top White House aide to President Bill Clinton — endorsed the amendment. But just 38 members —22 Democrats and 16 Republicans — voted for the package while 382 lined up in opposition.
“We must come together for the good of the country. We must set partisanship aside,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) in a vain appeal. “It’s easy to be critical. It’s hard to perform. Let’s make it happen for America tonight.”
Smelling defeat in the air, his partner, Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), didn’t hold back his punches.
“You know you have a good deal when the left and right are beating the snot out of you,” LaTourette told his colleagues. “The mood in the country is throw the bums out … Americans are screaming for us to take off our red jerseys on this side, to take off the blue jerseys on that side, and put on the red white and blue jerseys of the United States of America.”
“We’re asking that members tonight stand up,” LaTourette said. “That they stand up to the bloodsuckers in this town who take 5, 10, 15, 25 dollars from our constituents to pretend to defend causes on their behalf. We’re asking people to stand up stand up to pledges that they made 20 years ago when we didn’t have a 15 trillion deficit owed to China.”
In separate votes, a second more liberal alternative crafted by the Congressional Black Caucus actually did better while still losing, 314-107. And for all their passion, Cooper and LaTourette will now have to deal with the question of whether they hurt their cause by pushing for a recorded vote without more support to back them up.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who might have been counted as an ally in many circumstances, faulted the timing in a statement later.
“In order to achieve a big and balanced deficit reduction package, we must build a broad consensus,” Hoyer said. “The budget substitute offered tonight by Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve LaTourette came to the Floor before that broad consensus could be achieved, which is why I voted against it.
“However, we must continue working to achieve a big and balanced deficit reduction solution in order to set our country back on a sustainable fiscal path. I continue to believe that the Bowles-Simpson model should be a basis for ongoing discussions in the effort to create the needed consensus.”
Cooper defended their efforts.
“The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan had been vetted, but never tested. Powerful special interests and the leaders of both parties opposed it tonight, but 38 brave souls were willing to do the right thing for the country,” Cooper said later, showing no remorse, “When we eventually solve our nation’s deficit problem, the final blueprint will look like this.”
That said Ryan’s own budget has little chance itself in the Democratic Senate. And just to get through the House has required him to tack to the right repeatedly.
His handling of the disaster aid question — at first glance — seemed to fit this pattern.
Released Monday, his committee report has been unequivocal, saying that the budget assumes that “any future disaster-relief-designated spending relief will be fully offset within the discretionary levels provided in this resolution.”
To underscore the point, the committee went on to take credit for $101 billion in 10-year savings “by assuming that any future disaster funding is accomplished within the caps.”
Under the same resolution those caps are already being reduced to $1.028 trillion in 2013 – $19 billion less than what had been widely assumed in the August debt accords. If disaster aid had to also be squeezed in – as described in the report – that would mean a further reduction of at least $5 billion in the total resources available next year.
“They were surprised as was I as well,” Rogers said of his reaction to the report and his subsequent discussions with party leaders. When POLITICO first reported on the language Monday night, top aides appeared puzzled by the report’s language.
Indeed, only last year, the same disaster aid funding issue had provoked bitter fights until an understanding was reached in the August debt accords to set out more orderly procedures.
That agreement, which had the blessing of leaders in both parties, was designed to allow Congress to respond quickly as long as the appropriations were under a prescribed cap reflecting the 10-year rolling average for disaster aid.
The goal was to build in some flexibility but also guard against ad hoc runaway spending. In the current 2012 budget, for example, total discretionary spending is capped at $1.043 trillion but up to $11.4 billion in additional spending is allowed in the event of disasters.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has been helping to shepherd the budget through the House, stood by the deal last fall, when it helped expedite aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene. And his office was credited with moving quickly to resolve the dispute now and reaching an understanding with Ryan and Rogers.
By: David Rogers
March 28, 2012 07:25 PM EDT