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House GOP Leaders Begin to Gauge Budget Concerns

With battle lines already being drawn over President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget, House Republican leaders have begun the arduous process of gathering support from their own Members for the spending blueprint.

Leaders convened a full GOP Conference meeting Wednesday afternoon to hear lawmakers concerns, and they plan to have at least one more gathering before the Budget Committee marks up the funding package.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) plans to name a budget task force that will be charged with helping to gauge support for the measure within the Conference. The group will include GOP Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Howard McKeon (Calif.), Robin Hayes (N.C.), Jim Walsh (N.Y.) and Mike Conaway (Texas) and a handful of other Members.

“They are all already Whips and have specific expertise on areas of the budget that need work,” said Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor. “They’ll meet with small groups of Members that have specific concerns and try to resolve those issues early.”

On a larger scale, the Whip operation will also convene several “working groups” — similar to last year’s “listening sessions” — consisting of eight to 10 Members apiece. Those gatherings will be led by Blunt or Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Some will also be attended by Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa).

The goal of these efforts is to gather as much information as possible about Members’ attitudes toward the budget before Nussle marks up his plan, so that the chairman can incorporate whatever changes are deemed necessary to ensure that the final document attracts 218 votes.

While the Whip operation employed similar tactics last year, garnering early feedback could be even more crucial this time around. Bush’s budget submission calls for the elimination of roughly 150 government programs. Though not all the programs are known yet, each presumably has a champion in the House.

In addition, the budget proposal calls for steep cuts in Medicaid, a potential problem for moderates, while on the other end of the spectrum, Republican conservatives may push to lower spending levels even more than the president proposed.

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