The U.S. House of Representatives finally approved its version of a congressional budget resolution after the Republican leadership agreed to provide an additional $3.1 billion for labor, health, and education programs. The resolution passed by a 218 to 210 party-line vote on May 18. The measure now moves to a House-Senate conference; however, differences on the overall spending cap between the two resolutions are likely to make a final agreement difficult, if not impossible, to reach. As passed, the House version maintains President Bush’s overall spending cap of $873 billion, whereas the Senate version exceeds Bush’s maximum spending level by at least $16 billion.
Passing a budget resolution that kept to the president’s fiscal parameters was seen as a significant achievement for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who had dealt with considerable infighting among different factions of the Republican Party over the past few months. “We successfully worked with conservatives, moderates, and appropriators alike to come together as a team and pass a responsible budget that controls spending,” said Boehner.
Unlike the House, the Senate added about $16 billion in spending over the president’s cap in order to pass its budget resolution back in March. Included among the Senate’s additions was a $7 billion amendment that added to the pool of money available for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor.
Over the past few weeks, negotiations on the House budget resolution were stalled as House moderates also held out for a $7 billion addition. To achieve that aim, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) agreed to shift $4.1 billion in increases for defense and foreign aid to programs funded in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill. In an agreement with the House Republican leadership, moderates received a pledge that the remaining $3 billion would be provided; the deal assumes that at least $1 billion would come from unallocated Iraq reconstruction funds while the other $2 billion would come from unspecified cuts—but not from reductions in spending on Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, or any other programs designed for the “very people we are trying to help,” according to Representative Michael Castle (R-DE), who led the holdout among moderate Republicans.
Democrats, however, were very skeptical that the promised funding would be in place at the end of the day. “The fact is, [Republican moderates] are now selling out for a promise that if some-time in the deep dark distant future somebody does something to change this budget resolution, then there might be a table scrap or two left for additional education and healthcare,” said Representative David Obey (D-WI), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “There is about as much chance of that happening as there is of the Chicago Cubs winning the pennant this year.” (As of May 30, the Chicago Cubs had a record of 19-31 and trailed the St. Louis Cardinals by 13.5 games in the Central Division. The Las Vegas odds of the Cubs winning the pennant are 18 to 1. )
Because of the $16 billion difference between the House and Senate resolutions, the prospects of a compromise on a congressional budget resolution are dim. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) acknowledged that the delay in passing the House version could pose a problem. “Clearly, at this point in the year, it’s going to be tough to get a conference agreement,” he said. “But if there’s anyone in the Senate who can get it done, it’s [Senate Budget Committee Chairman] Judd Gregg (R-NH).