Threatening to hold up legislation under his committee’s purview, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) delayed last week’s biennial committee funding resolution over $160,000 he felt his panel needed to handle its responsibilities for the 108th Congress.
Accounts of the not-so-thinly veiled threats differ, but several well-placed GOP aides said Thomas reminded the House leadership that the tax cut that passed the chamber Friday and the prescription drug measure expected to be taken up in a few weeks are under his committee.
“He made some sort of reference to how difficult it would be to start a markup next week over Medicare: ‘Gee, this would be awfully difficult to do’” without more funding, coming off the tax bill the week before, relayed one aide.
“Ways and Means was asked to do a lot this year. He has a case to make,” the aide said, but quickly adding that all chairmen could say the same. “Everybody can make the case that their spending is necessary.”
The $252.5 million committee funding measure was pulled from the suspension calendar Wednesday afternoon after Thomas requested the boost. His $160,000 was then added Thursday, and the bill passed by unanimous consent soon after.
Another aide said Thomas told leadership staff before the bill was to be called up that he could delay the tax-cut measure if he didn’t get what he wanted.
“Oh, grow up. Nobody does that,” Thomas said of such claims. “I make arguments on the basis of facts. Apparently my factual argument was [listened to] because the bill didn’t come up [Wednesday]. Do you think that really works? That’s how kids throw tantrums.”
But that’s how the aide described the incident.
“You know the kid on the playground who is never happy with the toy he has, who always wants the toy someone else is playing with and will whine and pout until he gets it? Once again, Bill Thomas was that kid,” the source said.
Key lawmakers were none too pleased either.
“I think he plays that card too often,” one GOP lawmaker said, referring to Thomas’ notorious temper. “People are upset.”
But beyond what one aide deemed Thomas’ “squeaky-wheel syndrome,” many questioned what kind of precedent it sets to allow a chairman to balk at his allotment and then be rewarded with more money.
“What if every chairman had decided they wanted another $40,000 or $60,000? Would this have been passed?” the aide asked rhetorically.
House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose committee has jurisdiction over the funding bill, suggested Thomas’ request was granted, at least in part, because of its relatively small size. He also said he
didn’t feel the situation was necessarily precedent-setting, calling the changes just “tweaking.”
“If he feels he needs more money, we’ll work with him. He has a lot of work product,” Ney said.
Ways and Means was set to receive an 8.3 percent boost, totaling $1.2 million, over its funding for the 107th Congress.
When cobbling together the committee funding resolution from 20 chairmen’s requests, Ney and House Administration ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.) pared down the total from $50 million more than what was allotted in the 107th to a $30 million increase. Both figures include $11 million for the new Homeland Security Committee.
All in all, the Ways and Means allocation wasn’t too bad relative to other committees. Thomas’ request was reduced by only 3.3 percent, or $545,000, far less than the majority of panels, many of which saw their requests reduced by almost 20 percent, or more than $1 million.
“I submitted a very real, honest budget request,” Thomas said, adding that he was interested only in getting a “real, honest” budget for his panel.
Ney said Thomas called him personally to hash out his concerns. Ney said he heard through the “rumor mill” that Thomas, who formerly chaired House Administration, was making the squabble over the funding personal. But Ney explained: “Bill Thomas has never said this to me.”
Sources said Thomas was angered by the fact that the three committees on which Ney sits — House Administration, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Financial Services — did relatively well with about 15 percent increases.
Thomas said he had observed the increases on those committee in particular but added that it wasn’t an issue of envy.
Ney defended the allocations, noting that Transportation and Infrastructure reasonably could have been given even more. He also said he doesn’t sit on any of the committees — Rules, Intelligence and Budget — that received 100 percent of their requests.
Overall, Ney said, Thomas’ changes delayed the process by only one day, and the two were seen talking jovially on Thursday.
“That’s all it was. It wasn’t the end of the world,” he said.