Dems show interest in budget rules changes

Dems show interest in budget rules changes

Senate Rules Committee ranking member Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., late last week said Democrats are willing to consider Senate rules changes proposed by Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to speed floor consideration of budget and appropriations bills.

While Lott's proposals would limit some rights of Senators to offer amendments to the budget resolution, reconciliation or appropriations bills, Dodd said there is "general sympathy" among Democrats about too many amendments to the budget resolution and Senators attempting to add legislation to appropriations bills.

Dodd said Lott's proposals, which Lott submitted when the Senate opened last week, were more extensive than Democrats had anticipated. He said Democrats have not yet begun looking at the details and their ramifications for the minority party because Senators are focused on the impeachment trial of President Clinton.

Dodd acknowledged Democrats will be careful not to give up significant rights of any senators to offer amendments, but that there is a desire among Democrats to make the budget process run more smoothly.

Lott will need the Democrats' support to win the 67 votes needed to change Senate rules.

Senate rules long prohibited attaching legislative riders to appropriations bills. But during the 104th Congress, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, tried to amend the Endangered Species Act on a spending bill. After the chair ruled Hutchison could not offer the amendment, she won her appeal of the chair's ruling. That vote set a precedent that has since unleashed a wave of legislating on appropriations bills, which has frustrated Lott and appropriators.

Senators also have proposed questionable designations of "emergency spending." Lott and Senate Budget Chairman Domenici also want to curb the "vote-a-thons" on hundreds of amendments to the budget resolution and reconciliation bills by setting amendment filing deadlines and limiting senators to two amendments each.

Democratic aides said they have identified potential problems in Lott's proposals, but added there is a genuine desire to try to work through them. While Democrats do not yet have a proposal of their own, aides noted that Democrats last year agreed by unanimous consent to a deadline for submitting amendments to the budget resolution and other bills.

Dodd said it is the additional items in Lott's proposal, such as limiting senators to two amendments on the budget resolution and reconciliation, that need to be examined for their ramifications.

Democratic aides said limiting Senators to two amendments could become a problem if, after debate on a budget bill begins, another item is found or a new provision added that a Senator wants to amend.

After debate time expires, Lott's proposal calls only for votes on pending amendments, not just those filed. If senators are not recognized to offer an amendment they already have filed, then it would not be pending-thus they would get no vote on it, aides said. "The effect could be that individual senators could have no recourse to protect their interests," an aide said.

Lott's attempt to define "emergency spending" as "unforeseen" could limit action on a serious issue-such as the Y2K computer problem-which Congress might have know about for years, but failed to take action on until it became a crisis, aides said.