House delays budget vote
GOP left without necessary votes after moderates balk at cuts
From Deirdre Walsh
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Republican leaders abruptly called off a vote Thursday on a bill that would trim $50 billion in spending after moderate Republicans resisted cuts to a range of social programs, including Medicaid, student loans and food stamps.
House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, acknowledged the leadership team was "not quite where we need to be to go to the floor." He said the vote was postponed because representatives needed to get back to their districts for Veterans Day events.
Blunt said he needed to do some work getting members "more comfortable" with the bill, and he said he would bring the measure back for a vote next week.
The unusual debate was the first big test for the House Republican leadership since Rep. Tom DeLay was required by congressional rules to step down as majority leader in September following his indictment in Texas on money laundering and conspiracy charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Late Wednesday night, House leaders -- bowing to objections from two dozen moderate Republicans -- dropped a provision in the bill that would have allowed oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The concession was a blow to President Bush, who has been urging Congress to open ANWR as part of an effort to develop more domestic energy sources. However, the Senate has included ANWR exploration in its version of the budget bill, which means it could be revived when the two versions are reconciled by a conference committee.
One of the GOP moderates, Rep. Mike Castle, R-Delaware, said the move to strip ANWR out of the bill was significant, but he said it was not enough to garner support from House members concerned with the level of spending cuts. He said he remained undecided on whether to vote for the measure at the time it was pulled.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Democrats made the bill "too hot to handle" for Republicans, and she called the cuts "anti-family, anti-taxpayer and anti-American."
"By having to pull it today, it is a failure on the part of the Republicans," she said.
Blunt downplayed the idea that the decision could prompt questions about his leadership abilities, saying, "It's pretty easy to criticize leadership."
Though no longer an official member of the House leadership, DeLay was involved throughout the day in meetings to secure votes, and he appeared with the leadership team when they announced they were postponing the vote.
DeLay described his role to reporters as "advising the speaker and the leadership. I worked the votes, did it all."
He blamed Democrats for refusing to work across party lines, charging that "if it weren't for the political scheming of the Democratic leadership, there would be Democrats who would be excited for voting for this bill."
The budget bill passed by the Senate last week had $35 billion in spending cuts, as opposed to $50 billion in the House version.
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