Majority leader says budget plan will test GOP commitment

The budget was mentioned as one of the major issues Democrats will take up after they complete their "100 hours" agenda.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Tuesday dismissed GOP efforts to shift the burden of the issue of the federal deficit to the newly empowered congressional Democrats.

"They have no burden to shift," Hoyer said. "They [Republicans] have never in the last six years taken responsibility for balancing the budget."

President Bush is expected to make balancing the budget a main theme of his State of the Union address next Tuesday and the House GOP leadership has been talking fiscal conservatism since moving into the minority this month.

Hoyer said the upcoming Democratic fiscal 2008 budget plan will test Bush's commitment to the principle. "If he really wants to get to balance he will agree with us and reinstate the pay/go rule," added Hoyer.

The budget was mentioned as one of the major issues Democrats will take up after they complete their "100 hours" agenda Thursday, along with immigration reform. But, with the exception of action on a fiscal 2007 continuing resolution, both of those are long term and not likely to result in floor action soon.

Just what Democrats will do with their much-touted, but yet to be realized, five-day work week has been the subject of much conjecture on Capitol Hill among both Democrats and Republicans, who have been critical of the idea.

"What do they have after this 100 hours stuff? Nothing," said one Republican chief of staff. "We have no idea what they are going to bring to the floor or how they are going to fill the time."

Hoyer said he has asked committee chairman to, in effect, "construct their own agenda" in their areas of jurisdiction and get back to him with legislative priorities. He expects to have more details about how Democrats will schedule their agenda at the end of the month.

On Iraq, Hoyer said the House will take up a resolution condemning a surge in U.S. troop levels after the Senate, which will not take up its measure until after State of the Union. A House vote on the resolution therefore might not come until the last two days of this month or possibly not even until February, given scheduled Republican and Democratic party retreats in the next two weeks.

Hoyer said members will be provided "substantial" debate time for the measure, but likely not as much as the five minutes per member provided for the Iraq war resolution in 2003. He added that he expects it to be approved on a bipartisan vote, citing comments from several House Republicans criticizing Bush's plan to increase troop levels, including Reps. Ric Keller of Florida, Howard Coble of North Carolina, Jim Ramstad of Minnesota and Phil English of Pennsylvania.

He noted that bipartisanship will continue to be a priority for the Democratic leadership, even as Republicans continue to complain about being sidelined with no say in the 100 hours. "The hope is ... to try and continue to work on a bipartisan basis," Hoyer said.