House majority leader bearish on budget passage

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday he doubts Congress can pass a budget resolution this year.

Hoyer said both he and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., would like to pass a budget, but he cautioned they will see "whether we have the votes."

Hoyer noted that in 2002, 2004 and 2006 -- years when Republicans held the majority that also happened to be election years -- the House could not get a budget resolution through Congress.

"It's difficult to pass budgets in an election year," said Hoyer. "Because they reflect what is the status -- and the status [is] this country was brought into deep debt by the economic policies of the Bush administration."

Hoyer said 90 percent of the nation's existing debt was a direct result of GOP policies from 2001 to 2006. The rest can be attributed to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which President Bush asked for, and the stimulus package, he added.

After Hoyer's remarks, House Republicans countered that failure to pass a budget would be irresponsible.

"The deficit was over $65 billion in March, and the [Democrats'] solution is to abandon a federal budget this year,' said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va. "The only thing more rare than a Democrat who listens is a Democrat who spends money responsibly."

Among the challenges to getting a budget resolution is providing adequate discretionary spending to keep the recovery going while bringing down historically high deficits, according to budget experts.

"It is going to be a challenge for the Democrats within their caucuses ... to reach agreement on the level of discretionary spending for fiscal 2011" and beyond, said Jim Horney, who was deputy Democratic staff director on the Senate Budget Committee from 2001 to 2004 and now directs federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

With no Republican support expected, Democratic leaders will need support from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and push for strong deficit-reduction measures, probably over a five-year budget window beginning in fiscal 2011. But they also cannot afford to alienate progressive Democrats who are wary of cutting discretionary spending on social programs, especially as the economy begins to recover.

The discretionary spending issue could be such a dilemma that Democrats might just set the fiscal 2011 level to complete the fiscal 2011 appropriations bills, said Brian Riedl, a senior policy analyst on budget issues at the Heritage Foundation.

Horney said Congress might not pass any of the 12 annual appropriations bills before the November election if Democratic leaders seek to protect their members from taking politically difficult votes. The appropriations bills tend to become a foil for controversial issues, and the minority party typically uses the process to get the majority on the record on issues they can use in upcoming elections.

Riedl is more optimistic Democrats will act on those bills - if only in the faster-moving House - because lawmakers will want to tout their legislative successes and earmarks back home ahead of the election.

"Lawmakers see the appropriations season as a net positive for their election prospects rather than a net negative because they can trumpet all the money they are going to bring home even if they have to take tough votes," Riedl said.

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