WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders planned a last-ditch effort to pass a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint Wednesday after failing twice previously to win over GOP moderates displeased with its prescription for education and health spending.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, confessed early in the day that GOP leaders did not yet have sufficient votes from party moderates to pass the measure, a nonbinding blueprint that establishes lawmakers' tax and spending priorities. The annual congressional budget resolution sets the outlines for subsequent bills that cut or raise taxes and spending.
Also, a handful of conservatives are unhappy about voting for the budget plan because a vote for the measure also endorses a $653 billion increase in the national debt — to $9.6 trillion.
The official deadline for Congress to wrap up the budget outline came and went a month ago, but divisions among House Republicans have kept party leaders from bringing the House version of the measure to a vote.
The Senate passed its budget plan in March, but moderate Republicans and politically endangered senators helped voted with Democrats to approve more than $16 billion in spending above President Bush's $873 billion cap on agency budgets approved by Congress each year.
But with House conservatives insisting on adhering to Bush's spending limits, it's commonly assumed that the House and Senate won't be able to agree on a final budget blueprint.
Still, GOP leaders want to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to at least pass a budget through the House for the first time since congressional budget rules were put in place in 1975.
"It's just time to move on with this," Boehner said. He added that GOP leaders were contemplating adding about $3 billion to the budget for education and health programs, subject to cuts elsewhere in the budget. It was hoped that would assauge moderates.
One reason is that the House is poised to pass the first two of 11 spending bills this week for the upcoming budget year. One of the chief reasons to pass a budget plan is to set a "cap" for those bills, though there are plenty of ways for the House to move ahead without a budget.
With Republicans anticipating a mostly stand-pat year — with no major tax cuts on the agenda and efforts to cut benefit programs iffy at best — passing a budget plan isn't critical.
This year's budget plan, developed by the House Budget Committee, reflects election-year realities and drops Bush's proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, crop subsidies and other politically sensitive programs. But to the dismay of moderates, the proposal adopts the president's plan to trim spending by most Cabinet agencies.
The plan covers the 2007 budget year beginning Oct. 1, and besides adopting Bush's $873 billion cap on agency budgets renewed by Congress each year, also assumes just $50 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's less than one-half of expected spending for the current year.
Even so, it would produce a deficit of $348 billion in 2007 and deficits totaling more than $1 trillion through 2011 if Congress enacts its policies.
The plan endorses Bush's call for a 7 percent increase in the core defense budget — which doesn't include Iraq war costs — for next year. That increase comes at the expense of domestic programs like education, health research and grants to local governments and relief agencies.
The plan also assumes $226 billion in additional tax cuts over five years, more than half of which would go for extending Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Most of those cuts are set to expire in 2010. But the committee didn't take the necessary steps under Congress' arcane budget process to facilitate speedy action on a tax bill.
After passing a five-year, $39 billion bill cutting Medicare, Medicaid and student loan subsidies last year, the latest budget proposes just $6.8 billion in savings spread over five years from such so-called mandatory programs whose budgets typically rise with inflation and population growth.