Keep the news coming! Your ad here for only $30 a week.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

It's deep-breath time

Congress returns from its two-week spring vacation tomorrow, with the daunting task of reconciling two very different federal budget bills coming out of the House and Senate. The break was a chance for everyone to think rationally about this, and a lot of real doubt exists about whether the two houses can agree.

This is significant, because if they can't agree, the ANWR oil drilling provision in the Senate's version of the budget will die on the vine. And there's a real possibility of that happening, because there are many other contentious differences between the House and Senate budgets.

This Sunday piece by Richard Mauer in the Anchorage Daily News lays it all out pretty well. There is disagreement over Medicaid cuts sought by Pres. Bush and the additional tax cuts he wanted (which, by the way, are unfunded and will further deepen the budget deficit).

"It's not a slam-dunk that a budget resolution will be passed," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition.

The House version of the budget does not contain an ANWR drilling provision. A group of moderate House Republicans has urged their budget committee chairman, Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), to keep it that way. Said Nussle recently: "I hate to be a naysayer about this at all, but I'm not sure how we get a conference with the Senate with where they're at."

Even if ANWR does stay in the finished budget bill, drilling is not a done deal. The House and Senate must still write legislation to "enable" the specifics in the budget. In the case of ANWR, this would fall to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee and House Resources Committee. The committees have until June to return legislation, which would then be combined in a reconciliation package that must be approved again by both chambers and signed by the president.

With Republicans controlling every step of the process, it would be a huge embarrassment if they can't agree on a budget. As David Broder of the Washington Post said so succintly, "The heat is on."

[Technorati tags: ]