Senate spending process to go forward even without budget deal
Senate Appropriations Committee chairman gives negotiators until next Tuesday to secure the two votes needed to pass the budget resolution.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said Tuesday he had given negotiators on the fsical 2005 budget resolution until next Tuesday to secure the two votes necessary for passage, or he will begin the markup process without a budget blueprint in place.
The deadline may slip a week because of the near shutdown of legislative business this week, although he said he hoped to hold his first markup the week before the July 4 recess. Stevens said he would like to consider the fiscal 2005 Defense spending bill first, but the fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill on the floor -- with 250 pending amendments -- takes precedence. If the session creeps closer to the recess and the authorization bill is not complete, Stevens said he may first consider the FY05 Homeland Security bill.
Negotiations between Senate Budget Chairman Nickles and moderate holdouts including Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., remain stalled. Snowe and Nickles said they did not expect talks to occur this week, although Nickles expressed optimism that a deal would be struck and reported "progress" in negotiations last week.
The moderate Republicans have refused to support the budget blueprint because they are wary of allowing approval of tax cut legislation without having "pay/go" rules in place to require a vote to waive offset requirements. "I was hoping we would get it done in the next day or two, but this week set us back," Nickles said.
Without the budget resolution and its cap on fiscal 2005 discretionary spending at $821.4 billion, Stevens' panel would be limited to $814 billion in total spending but with no budgetary points of order on the floor capping funds for each individual spending bill. That would lead to a situation where funds could be increased on the floor until reaching that $814 limit, meaning some spending bills could be left out of the process.
Without a budget, Stevens said, they would "pray and connive to work something out," but election-year politics would necessitate amendments increasing spending on fiscal 2005 Defense and Homeland Security Appropriations bills on the floor and "there won't be any money left for anything else."
"My problems are just enormous without a budget," Stevens said. "Just enormous."
He added that he has discussed the matter with Nickles, and has suggested that moderate holdouts could be convinced to support the budget by addressing their concerns through the appropriations process.
"I said to Sen. Nickles, 'Tell the [holdouts] to come and see me and maybe I can take care of some of their projects," he said with a grin. "So far I haven't had any calls."
Nickles declined to comment on using the appropriations process to address moderates' concerns.