House Republicans Are Key To Passage of Budget Deal

REPUBLICANS in the House of Representatives now are in the spotlight - and feeling the heat - as they haven't been in years. After decades of feeling powerless as a persistent House minority and ignored by presidents even of their own party, they suddenly are being courted by the White House and congressional leaders. House Republicans were the key target of the president's dramatic television appeal to Americans to ``tell your congressmen and senators you support this deficit-reduction agreement.''

``Now is the time for you, the American people, to have a real impact,'' Mr. Bush said at another point. ``Your senators and congressmen need to know that you want this deficit brought down ... that the time for posturing is over.''

If the politically touchy package generates enough support from Republicans in Congress, a majority of Democrats are expected to approve the compromise, with its new taxes and reduced social and defense spending. Republican support is thought to be sizable in the Senate, but at this writing support is much less certain from the 176 Republicans in the House.

The president has put his prestige behind passage. To achieve it, he needs Americans to change their views from opposition to support of the proposal, and to put enough pressure on House Republicans to change their votes.

When House minority leader Robert Michel (R) of Illinois counted noses early in the week ``the results were pretty soft,'' in the words of an aide: Had the vote been held then, Republicans would have turned down their president.

The White House then began to press wavering Republicans by phone and in person. Rep. Bill McCollum (R) of Florida received five phone calls Oct. 1 from top administration figures: two from Vice President Dan Quayle, and one each from White House chief of staff John Sununu, budget director Richard Darman, and Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady.

Mr. McCollum speaks out against the compromise anyway. ``He feels at this point that he has more of an allegiance to his constituents than to the president,'' an aide said Oct. 2.

President Bush invited some 70 Republicans to the White House in small groups Oct. 2 to try personal suasion. Several told him that before they could support the proposal, he had to convince the voters; that evening he and Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell took to television to try.

As they did, talk was heavy on Capitol Hill that the president might lose the first vote on the proposal this week in the House, and that a majority of Republicans would vote against him. Many House Republicans disagree with the president: ``Behind the scenes they are calling it a Democratic tax-and-spend package,'' said one Republican aide.

Behind their opposition lies not only philosophical differences but an assortment of concerns.

They are frustrated by having spent so many years in the minority that no current House Republican has ever been part of the majority. They are angry that, except for Mr. Michel, they were kept outside the deliberative room while the budget compromise was crafted. And many fear that if they vote yes on the measure their election opponents will accuse them of supporting a higher-taxes-lower-benefits package, and then ride the swelling national tide of anti-incumbency to victory.

But most analysts think the House, and the Senate, eventually will have to approve the measure, albeit reluctantly.

``I think a large number [of the members of Congress] will vote against it at least once,'' says Rudolph Penner, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. ``But ultimately I think it will pass. ... They've only got bad alternatives,'' such as sequestration, ``which nobody wants to see occur.''

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