Dems Complain About Budget Process

Democrats bitterly complained today about being left out of the process that had led to a possible budget deal, although Senate Minority Leader Daschle voiced cautious support for an accord after being briefed by the White House.

House Democrats left open the possibility they could play the role House Republicans played in 1990 when they killed a budget deal.

A pessimistic House Minority Leader Gephardt said, "It's unfortunate that this has not been a budget summit that has included House Democrats ... to the extent I would like." He said it is not clear that many Democrats can support the deal, adding, "I don't know what the deal is."

Gephardt referred to the 1990 budget deal, which fell apart in the House, contending that "ultimately, what counts here is the votes ... You can't know if you're going to get a majority of the Democrats until you know the details and we don't know the details yet."

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said: "I'm not here to be Bill Clinton's congressman ... There are a lot of members who are opposed to this package. And these types of deals have been brought down before ... I don't believe for a minute it's going to balance the budget."

Equally put off by the negotiating process was Daschle, who told reporters he is "extremely disappointed and very, very troubled by this process ... This is the worst kind of government, cutting deals in the dark ... This process stinks."

But he later told South Dakota reporters that "five minutes after my news conference [with Washington reporters], White House negotiators were in my office explaining the process to me." Of the deal itself, Daschle said, "If their report holds true, it's likely [a package] I can support." Speaking to reporters this morning, Daschle at first expressed serious reservations about the emerging budget deal and said, "I'm not signing anything until I see the details."

On the vital question of whether Democrats will support the deal, House Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner of Ohio expressed confidence that an "overwhelming" number of Democrats would vote for it, while a House "Blue Dog" centrist Democrat predicted the deal could draw 50 or 60 Democratic votes.

Boehner predicted "there will be overwhelming support for this [deal], both from Democrats and Republicans." He said the Democrats who have voiced skepticism about the budget agreement are "only the liberal tax-and-spend extremists. I think you will be surprised by how many Democrats believe this is the right direction." Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., a member of the Blue Dogs, said he has found the negotiators to be "open" to suggestion. Condit said he will not rule out voting for the budget and that he believes between 50 and 60 Democrats will "take a good look at it" and could vote for it.

Meanwhile, some Republicans were cautiously optimistic about the possible deal. Rep. Mark Neumann, R-Wis., a leader of sophomore Republican deficit hawks, said he "trusts" that the budget deal meets most of the overall goals of conservative Republicans, including declining deficits in each of the years before 2002. But Neumann added, "I want to see it in writing." Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said that in today's meeting of the GOP Conference "by far the majority of Republicans are optimistic."

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