Senate chairman sets aggressive budget schedule

Laying out an ambitious legislative schedule, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., Wednesday said he would like to move the fiscal 2004 budget resolution and reconciliation legislation through the Senate by April 11, just prior to Congress' spring recess.

"This seven-week period may start slow, but it's not going to end slow," said Nickles in an interview with CongressDaily.

While that may be a workable schedule for the resolution, which both Nickles and House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa have vowed will be done by the April recess, reconciliation will be a much bigger task. Nickles declined to discuss reconciliation specifics, noting that the dollar amounts and the number of potential reconciliation instructions are still under discussion, although he said it was accurate to assume he would be "starting with the president's figures" on tax cuts.

Nickles said he may push for a new round of spending caps and other statutory tools to put teeth into the budget process and help curb mounting deficits, although he acknowledged that caps and other tools in the recent past have not always worked as well as designed. With modified pay-as-you-go rules set to expire April 15 in the Senate, Nickles said he would try to extend them, although he declined to say whether they should apply to both spending and tax breaks.

Proclaiming himself still a deficit hawk, Nickles said that as Budget chairman, he would look at the "whole budget," not just discretionary spending, for ways in which to curb government growth. "We're spending $2.2 trillion, we ought to look at all of it," said Nickles, saying there is a difference between "can we and should we" be willing to operate under budget scenarios that do not bring the budget back into balance.

In addition, Nickles said he would like to end the "overtly partisan" nature of the budget process and bring Democrats on board this year's resolution. "I'm willing to work with them if they're willing to give me the votes," said Nickles.

If that does not happen, however, Nickles will be forced to move a resolution with Republican votes. That could make for some interesting maneuvering, given the conservative nature of Republicans on the Budget Committee and the influence that moderates can wield in getting something done on the floor.

"I'm concerned about passing it through the committee, but I'm more concerned about passing it on the floor," Nickles said.