GOP's budget battle
2/7/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tom DeLay, the House Republican strongman, does not like President Bush's deficit spending and has made that clear to both Bush and his budget chief, Mitch Daniels. But DeLay was not the real intraparty problem this week for the first Bush budget. The big headaches were caused by two Republican-appointed staff members.
Dan Crippen, Republican director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has issued a report belittling the president's tax cuts as not promoting economic growth but contributing to the returned budget deficit. James Dyer, staff director of the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee, is defying Bush's efforts to eliminate pork-barrel projects mandated by Congress.
Crippen and Dyer have provided enough help for Democrats to confirm long-standing criticism of the two key Republican congressional staff appointments. They undermine Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in pursuing across-the-board tax reduction and spending restraint amid recession and the war against terrorism.
The notion that DeLay, majority whip and presumptive party floor leader, was rebelling against Bush budget plans arose two weeks ago. DeLay and House Majority Leader Dick Armey met with Daniels in St. Michaels, Md., and firmly objected to red ink projected for the next two budgets. They then traveled to Camp David to say the same to the president. Word spread back to Washington that DeLay had told Bush he could not get his budget through the House if it contained the becalmed economic stimulus bill.
That's not quite accurate. DeLay's position is that he regards the second, watered-down stimulus bill passed by the House, which has been blocked in the Democratic Senate, as a bare minimum. Since that bill is not likely to pass Congress, there is no point in adding to the budget the revenue loss from tax cuts.
What really enrages DeLay is Dan Crippen at CBO. He was no favorite of supply-siders when he ran domestic policy as chief of staff James Baker's lieutenant in the Reagan White House. The choice to fill a CBO vacancy in 1999 was made by Sen. Pete Domenici, then Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He insisted on Crippen despite pronounced opposition from supply-siders.
The worst fears of Crippen's critics were realized by the recent CBO report that could have been written by Alice Rivlin, Democratic CBO director of two decades ago who battled Ronald Reagan's tax cuts. Crippen's report, minimizing Bush's growth-oriented cuts, is cited daily by Democrats. DeLay believes that CBO's revenue estimates, lower than OMB's, reflect Crippen's desire to avoid Democratic criticism. "He has no credibility," DeLay told me.
Jim Dyer at House Appropriations does more than issue reports and estimates. As Capitol Hill's single most powerful staffer, he defies party leaders and the White House in satisfying the appetites of appropriators. For the past year, he has demolished attempts by Daniels to rid the budget of earmarked pork-barrel spending.
Daniels is trying again this year. With the popular program of Pell college grants underfunded, he proposed that Congress get the money for the student loans from a long list of its projects passed for the folks back home. Why not, he asked, switch money away from pork for politicians and toward funding educated Americans? He submitted a list of projects, headed by two classic earmarks: for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland and for the Grammy Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.
The appropriators were incensed. OMB staffers got an earful from Dyer, irate that the president dare interfere with congressional earmarks. Republican legislative aides are not known to attack a Republican administration on the record, but Dyer is no ordinary staffer. He told the Los Angeles Times that Daniels' proposal was "beyond the pale" and "an attempt to embarrass our committee."
Mitch Daniels is a veteran politician with congressional and White House experience before he spent the last decade in Indianapolis as a corporate executive. Consequently, he was aware of dangerous political waters on Capitol Hill that would threaten a budget attempting to cut taxes and control spending. Tom DeLay is an invaluable ally even when he says no to a stimulus bill that would not stimulate.