House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, was in New Hampshire last week to do what everyone who has followed his career knew for weeks was coming-officially announce the beginning of his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president in 2000. In doing this, Kasich has gone from being a "Budget Person" to being a "Candidate"-and that changes the way Republican budget efforts will be conducted this year.
First, Kasich will simply have less time to devote to budget matters. Time that in previous years he might have spent getting ready for a budget resolution markup, a caucus of House Republicans, or a meeting with Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Kasich is now as likely to spend being briefed by his campaign staff on an upcoming trip to New Hampshire or Iowa, meeting with potential contributors or working on television commercials.
Second, because of the limited amount of time Kasich will have to devote to the budget this year, he is far more likely to concentrate only on the budget resolution and to let other issues with less cachet, less immediacy and less prospect of political benefit go by the wayside. This means Kasich, who has never really liked extensive hearings anyway, is even less likely to hold them this year. Any overarching policy discussions-on the adequate level of military spending, for example-are far less likely to happen. And legislation that requires the budget committee to meet-like budget process reform-may have far less chance of moving forward.
Third, Kasich's absence may mean other Republicans on the committee have to come forward to take the lead-because their chairman either does not have the time or is unwilling to do so because of the negative impact it could have on his campaign. This may be something of a problem, however, because the ranking Republican, Rep. Saxby Chamblis, R-Ga.-who would normally play this role-just joined the committee this year and has virtually no track record on budget issues.
Fourth, Kasich almost certainly will be interested in completing the budget debate as quickly as possible so he can focus on the campaign. Because the main job of the Budget Committee and its chairman is the budget resolution, this should mean that Kasich pushes hard to get a budget resolution adopted as quickly as possible this year.
This creates a significant dilemma for Kasich, because the type of budget resolution that increasingly seems likely to be acceptable to the Senate may not be what he needs to appeal to the one constituency most important during the Republican presidential primaries-the hardcore right wing. These base supporters were so angered by the last year's agreement on supplemental spending that they abandoned the party, cost it seats in the last election and effectively forced Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign from the House. In other words, Kasich's need to complete a budget resolution as quickly as possible will give the Senate (as well as House moderates) far more leverage in determining what a fiscal 2000 budget resolution will look like-and that could spell trouble for his campaign.
Which leads directly to the fifth change. One of the easiest ways for Kasich to deal with this is to push his committee and the full House to pass a budget resolution that reflects the strict fiscal conservative political realities he must now deal with as a candidate, and then make only a limited effort to get an agreement with the Senate. This would allow Kasich to show the Republican base what he would do if he were in the White House. It would eliminate the need for any compromise with the Senate, allow him to claim that the House (under his leadership) passed a budget resolution on time, and free him up to campaign around the country. All in all, that could sound much more appealing than being stuck in Washington, negotiating what could be a personally politically damaging compromise.
It could also mean, however, that for the second year in a row Congress would fail to adopt a budget resolution conference report.
New From Budget Battles: The Budget Countdown
As of today there are a maximum of 32 legislative days left before the April 15 statutory deadline for Congress to agree on a budget resolution conference report, and 119 legislative days before the start of fiscal 2000. Take away Mondays and Fridays, when Congress typically does not conduct much legislative business, and there are only a scant 20 days before April 15-and 66 days before fiscal 2000 begins.
Question Of The Week
Last Week's Question. Jeff Holland is the person at the Congressional Budget Office who puts together what is known in the budget biz as the "sensitivity" figures for CBO, so it is hardly surprising that he not only knew the answer to last week's question but was the first person to respond correctly. Many others also knew enough to look at the CBO economic and budget outlook report (page 109), which provided the answer: a one percentage point decrease in interest rates would create the mirror image of the budget impact of a one percentage point increase-it would boost the surplus by $5 billion in the first year.
"Budget Battles" is going to award "I Won A 1999 Budget Battle" T-shirts to Jeff and to Michael Platner of the American Petroleum Institute, who was selected at random from all of the other correct responses.
This Week's Question. Want your own "I Won A 1999 Budget Battle" T-shirt to impress your friends (and simultaneously convince them that you still have to get a life)? Just correctly answer the following question, which was suggested by Dale Caldwell, a Labor Department employee currently on rotation with the House Budget Committee's Democratic staff. (Caldwell also gets a shirt.)
The question: Senate Budget Committee ranking Democrat Frank Lautenberg, R-N.J., last week announced that he would not run for re-election. Who is in line to take over as the ranking Democrat on that panel? Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.