Heading into final negotiations on FY97 spending, House Republican appropriators are willing to cut deals on individual programs, as long as the deals do not violate established budget caps, House Appropriations Chairman Livingston said Wednesday. "I'm only worried about adhering to the budget targets," Livingston told reporters.
However, some freshman GOP deficit hawks say with such a strategy, Republican leaders are giving up too many freshman goals to cut specific programs. GOP leaders say they plan to adjourn before month's end, meaning intense talks between the House and Senate and with the Clinton Administration must start shortly to complete the unfinished FY97 appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
In those talks, Republican leaders first and foremost will try to ease passage of appropriations conference reports and convince President Clinton to sign them. "The first commitment we have, and it is clearly stated, is to get the work done, get it cleaned up, and shut down this Congress and move on to next year," House Majority Leader Armey said Wednesday.
While Livingston agreed, he said Republicans will keep their eye on the bottom line. "The budget targets remain our guideposts," he said. "We're willing to negotiate."
Nevertheless, one appropriator said it may be difficult to maintain budget caps and reach consensus on education funding, the Democrats' top priority. "It will break the caps," House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Porter, R-Ill., predicted. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said education funding will be the "last major legislative fight" on domestic priorities this year. He said the Senate FY97 Labor-HHS appropriations bill is some $2.8 billion short on education funding.
But such talk of increasing education and other spending worries freshman deficit hawks. "The emphasis on reducing the size of the federal government is not as intense as it was," said freshman Rep. Mark Neumann, R-Wis., who has angered even his Republican colleagues in trying to cut spending over the past two years.
Neumann said he believes GOP leaders are rushing too much to adjourn. "If we have to stay out here an extra week ... to get closer to a balanced budget, let's stay the extra week," he said. Freshman Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., who earlier this year offered a series of amendments to cut House appropriations measures, agreed Republican leaders are at a disadvantage in their rush to finish the spending bills. "In any negotiation process, the party more eager to get a deal gives more," Gutknecht said. "It's clear we're the more eager party. I don't think we're going to get as good a deal as we might otherwise have gotten."
Asked whether Republicans should stay in session to negotiate a better deal, Gutknecht said: "In a perfect world, we ought to spend lots of time to sit down and work it out. But it's not a perfect world."