Conservatives offer votes in return for stricter spending rules

House conservatives drew lines in the sand Thursday on the fiscal 2007 budget resolution, demanding tougher rules on emergency spending, earmarks and a "date certain" for debate on budget process legislation in exchange for their votes.

The budget plan spends too much money for conservatives, while making little effort to curb entitlement programs. Moderates argue spending levels in the budget are insufficient for education, health care and other domestic programs.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, acknowledged that the leaders' work was cut out for them, but expressed no hesitation about putting the budget on the floor.

"We have members that want to spend more. We have members who want to spend less," Boehner said. "Our job over the next week is to find common ground on what the level of spending will be, put it on the floor and pass it."

Even if conservatives' demands are heeded, there is no guarantee GOP leaders can keep enough moderates on board to pass the budget. Boehner said negotiations with moderates were ongoing, but that "I believe we'll be at the president's number" of $873 billion in discretionary spending.

There is talk that even if House leaders can somehow scrape together enough votes, the budget resolution could easily fall apart in conference with the Senate, already on record as supporting far more spending. But Republicans this week were privately expressing doubts the measure will even get to conference.

There are 231 House Republicans; assuming all Democrats are present and vote "no," GOP leaders would need 218 Republican votes. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said Thursday he estimates at least seven moderates are solid "no" votes. That means Republican leaders have little margin of error with conservatives.

But a meeting Thursday between conservatives and party leaders yielded no agreement.

Talks are ongoing, said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, and the outcome could prove pivotal.

"What I've conveyed to leadership is I think that budget hawks ... see a historic opportunity to change the way we spend the people's money," he said. "The majority will pay a price in the November elections" unless Republicans further restrain spending, calling $873 billion a "ceiling."

Pence and his allies see $6.8 billion in mandatory spending cut instructions -- compared with $10 trillion in entitlement spending over the next five years -- as a lost opportunity.

Instead, they are seeking greater authority to control the spending process itself. Pence outlined four areas where they are demanding concessions from leadership, beginning with caps on "emergency" spending outside the budget process.

The budget resolution would cap emergency funds unrelated to the war at $4.3 billion; anything above that would be subject to Budget Committee review.

The RSC would go further and institute an up-or-down vote on increasing emergency spending above a set limit.

Second, they want a bigger crackdown on earmarks in pending lobbying overhaul legislation, and are demanding to see a "template" for new earmark rules next week before the budget vote.

"We want to strengthen the ability of members of Congress to challenge earmarks, to be notified of earmarks, to identify earmarks, and to do that both at the report language phase and at the conference report phase," Pence said.

Next, the RSC wants leadership to schedule floor consideration of a bill by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would grant the president "line-item veto" and enhanced rescission authority. "Mr. Ryan's bill has broad support among Republican Study Committee members and they're anxious that it should be scheduled for floor consideration before we're asked to vote on the budget resolution," Pence said.

Finally, conservatives want a "date certain" for debate on legislation to create a "sunset commission -- with teeth" to evaluate federal programs and eliminate "outdated" ones if possible.

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