Some Republicans restless over spending stalemate

A handful of senior Republicans expressed growing anxiety over the House's stalemate on fiscal 2003 appropriations bills at Thursday's GOP Conference meeting, telling Republican leaders to get the ball rolling again-or be ready to accept the political consequences of Democrats labeling them the "do-nothing House."

House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., complained that GOP leaders are relying too heavily on a continuing resolution (CR) to solve their appropriations dilemma-namely, the inability to bridge a $10 billion-plus gap between House and Senate spending targets.

Callahan said leaders are forgetting that the big difference between the two chambers will make it difficult to agree to the parameters of a CR, possibly leading to a scenario in which Senate Democrats successfully blame the House for not getting their work done.

"The fear is that if we do not pass appropriations bills and we go to the Senate with a temporary CR, the Senate wouldn't pass it and it would lead to a government shutdown. And the House would be blamed," Callahan said. "[President] Clinton did it to us in 1995, and we lost seats."

Callahan also blasted Republicans who are banking on Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., losing her race to former Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., which could give Republicans the majority in the Senate if there were a lame duck session immediately after the election.

"We ought to worry about what happens between Oct. 1 and the November election," Callahan said.

Responding to the criticism, a House leadership source asserted that there would be no government shutdown. "We will pass one-day CRs if necessary," said the source, who blamed the stalemate on the Senate's inability to pass a budget resolution and "promising the moon" to lawmakers looking for more spending.

But Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., who also spoke at the GOP Conference meeting today, said the intransigence shown by House leaders looking to keep a lid on spending is "unfair" to several moderate Republicans, including herself, who chose to vote for the House budget resolution knowing that the Senate would advocate more spending and a compromise would then be reached.

"I think we've got to get the appropriations bills done before the campaign," said Johnson, echoing a sentiment that moderates want the bills passed at higher allocations to insulate them from Democrats looking to paint them as willing to cut popular programs, such as education.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., acknowledged Thursday that leaders still have a way to go toward bringing Republicans together on the 2003 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

"The president has a line where he's going to pass bills and veto the bills," Hastert said. "There is some work and some cooperation that we have to do, but frankly we're not there yet."

Leaders were hoping to secure a meeting sometime Thursday among the various GOP factions, although nothing was concrete Thursday afternoon.