House Chairman Casts Doubt on Congress Finishing Budget

The Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee (search) chastised the GOP-run Senate on Tuesday for producing a fiscal outline with too much spending and cast doubt on whether Congress will complete a budget this year.

The remarks by Rep. Jim Nussle (search), R-Iowa, reflected a frustration by some of the House's more conservative leaders with the more moderate Senate. Last year, the two chambers failed to produce a budget after moderate GOP senators joined Democrats in demanding curbs on tax cuts that House Republicans rejected.

Nussle's comments also came as the Senate, in the middle of its debate over a nearly $2.6 trillion budget for 2006, faces efforts by lawmakers of both parties to prevent cuts in Medicaid (search), community development, Amtrak and other programs. Following President Bush's lead, the House and Senate budget committees have produced budgets that could lead to cuts in those programs.

"We're not going to budge when it comes to controlling spending," Nussle told reporters.

Congress' budget sets tax and spending totals, but it leaves specific decisions about revenues and spending for later legislation.

Nussle told reporters he wasn't sure how to get a compromise budget with the Senate. "This is going to be a very difficult year," he said.

Asked if his remarks were aimed at Republicans or Democrats, he said, "If the title has senator in front of it," he was talking about them.

GOP leaders want to pass a budget for another reason. They want the budget to order congressional committees to cut taxes and benefit programs, and to then grant the later tax and spending cut bills immunity from Senate filibusters.

It takes votes from 60 of the 100 senators to end filibusters, procedural delays that can kill legislation. Republicans have only a 55-44 Senate edge, plus a Democratic-leaning independent.

The Senate's budget orders $32 billion in five-year savings from benefits like Medicaid. The House's budget, which the chamber will begin debating Wednesday, seeks $69 billion in such savings.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., told reporters that if the Senate completes its budget, he will have a fiscal plan that is "very viable and very constructive" to take to negotiations with the House.

Gregg conceded, however, that getting the Senate to approve an initial version of the budget will be "obviously a challenge."

That challenge exists because Democrats, joined by moderate Republicans, have a good chance at winning amendments curbing tax cuts in light of the continuation of huge federal deficits.

Fights are expected this week over amendments requiring spending cuts or tax increases to pay for any tax cuts, and stripping language from the budget shielding tax cuts from filibusters.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., introduced an amendment providing $1 billion for operating costs for Amtrak, the national passenger railroad. Bush proposed no funds.

In another threat, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., was leading an effort to block $14 billion in five-year cuts the Senate budget aims at Medicaid. The federal-state health program for the poor and disabled plans to spend $1.12 trillion over the next five years.

The Senate spent most of its time Tuesday debating symbolic amendments both parties introduced regarding Bush's effort to reshape Social Security.

Senators approved a conciliatory amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calling Social Security "a vital national priority" that must be bolstered. It lacked specific suggestions for how to achieve that.

The Senate also approved a GOP amendment warning of tax and debt increases and benefit cuts if Social Security is not revamped. It rejected a pair of Democratic proposals limiting tax cuts and spending boosts if the program is not fixed, and warning of overhaul plans with benefit cuts or increased borrowing.