Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not Exactly Comity From GOP

Like a retreating army, Republicans are tearing up railroad track and planting legislative land mines to make it harder for Democrats to govern when they take power in Congress next month.

Already, the Republican leadership has moved to saddle the new Democratic majority with responsibility for resolving $463 billion in spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. And the departing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), has been demanding that the Democrat-crafted 2008 budget absorb most of the $13 billion in costs incurred from a decision now to protect physician reimbursements under Medicare, the federal health-care program for the elderly and disabled.

The unstated goal is to disrupt the Democratic agenda and make it harder for the new majority to meet its promise to reinstitute "pay-as-you-go" budget rules, under which new costs or tax cuts must be offset to protect the deficit from growing. ...

"There are individuals who want to blow up the tracks, and there are more of those individuals in the House," said one Senate leadership aide.

The collapse of the appropriations process will be felt soon in the Justice and Commerce departments, food-safety agencies and veterans' health care. "It's not just a mess. It's a mountainous mess," complained Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the next House Appropriations Committee chairman.

In the Medicare dispute, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) has aligned himself with Democrats against Mr. Thomas and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R., Texas). Talks continued last night in hopes of reaching agreement this morning on the physician issue and a larger $38 billion tax-and-trade package important to business.

"Failure is not an option," warned John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. New York City and Wall Street have a major stake in $682 million in tax provisions important to transportation infrastructure and redevelopment of the World Trade Center area. And the trade package, as introduced by Mr. Thomas last night, runs from Vietnam and Andean countries to a set of expired general preferences for developing countries around the globe.

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