With member "listening sessions" on House GOP spending priorities finished and two fiscal 2000 appropriations bills and legislation to create a Social Security "lock box" headed to the floor, House leaders are about ready to begin implementing their budget strategy-even as restive Democrats push for floor action next week on the emotional issue of gun control.
Emerging from a meeting at the White House with President Clinton last week, House Democrats said they would seek passage of a bill before the Memorial Day recess, and that Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., had agreed to the plan.
A spokesman for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Democrats do not want to tip their hand, but noted, "We have various parliamentary procedures as well as public pressure at our disposal" to turn up the heat on Republicans. One member who was at the session told CongressDaily Clinton agreed to help Democrats press Republicans to schedule a vote.
On Thursday, after markup of the Treasury-Postal funding bill was scuttled because of expected gun control amendments, top GOP and Democratic leaders worked out a tentative plan for the House Judiciary panel to hold a gun safety and enforcement hearing next week and get a bill to the floor by mid-June. But the full Democratic leadership team later rejected the proposal in favor of forcing action before the recess.
That triggered an attack Friday from House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who accused Gephardt of reneging on the agreement. DeLay also charged Gephardt with "lacking the confidence and trust" of his fellow Democrats to negotiate bipartisan agreements.
"How can we negotiate bipartisan agreements to get things done in Congress if the leader of one side does not have the authority to speak for his caucus?" DeLay asked.
But a top Gephardt deputy denied Gephardt made any such agreement, and promised Democrats would resort to "creative ways" to raise the issue in the House next week. The Treasury-Postal markup is on hold until after the recess, as is a Judiciary panel markup of the juvenile justice bill planned for Tuesday.
But Democrats will not lack opportunities to make their point this week, when the FY2000 Agriculture and Legislative Branch appropriations bills, as well as the Social Security lockbox bill, are scheduled for floor votes.
In advance of those votes, Republican leaders are considering moving their regular Wednesday GOP Conference meeting up to either Tuesday or Monday evening to discuss their budget and appropriations floor strategy with rank- and-file members. DeLay and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., have been meeting with members all week on how to stick to the FY2000 discretionary spending caps as they bring appropriations bills to the floor.
According to several members and leadership sources, House Republicans are coalescing around a strategy of bringing appropriations bills to the floor that maintain the caps and rolling the dice.
Rep. John Doolittle, R- Calif., a member of the Conservative Action Team, said the prevailing view is that, "Whatever we have control of, we Republicans should reflect our desire to hold the caps." And while floor votes ultimately reflect the will of the entire House, bills reported out of the Appropriations Committee should mirror GOP spending priorities, he said.