Budget bill allows 'end run' on cuts

May 05, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Two back-bench House members launched a drive yesterday to make an unprecedented end run around the Democratic leadership and give rank-and-file lawmakers a chance to vote on wholesale budget cuts from "A to Z."

The A-to-Z proposal, which gets its name from its chief sponsors, second-term Reps. Robert Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, and William H. Zeliff Jr., a New Hampshire Republican, would allow members to bypass House committees and take their proposed budget cuts, including such traditional untouchables as Social Security and Medicare, directly to the House floor.

Advocates say the idea is to keep the leadership from blocking proposed cuts either by bottling them up in hostile committees or by using the rules to prevent them from reaching a floor vote. Instead, A-to-Z backers want a 56-hour period of floor debate created specifically to consider any suggested budget reductions.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, a Washington Democrat, and his lieutenants have begun a crash campaign to torpedo the plan, arguing that it would unleash a legislative "free-for-all" without adequate hearings or even advance notice on what programs would be targeted for reduction or elimination.

The A-to-Z proposal is "a very poor way to legislate," Mr. Foley told reporters recently. "It denies the opportunity for members to have thoughtful consideration and review of legislation prior to votes. . . . It could lead to quick and peremptory votes on very large issues, including entire bills."

Sponsors of the process, however, claim it would offer every member of the House a chance to propose cuts in any part of the federal budget. "The A-to-Z plan gives us the opportunity to set aside power politics" and deliver "a body blow to big government spending," Mr. Zeliff said.

To succeed, A to Z advocates must get a majority of the House to sign a "discharge petition" that would bypass the leadership-dominated Rules committee. The little-used mechanism can allow a House majority to insist on bringing legislation to the floor despite opposition of the Democratic leadership.

So far, 230 members have co-sponsored the A to Z bill, or 13 more than the current majority of 217. The House has 435 members, but there are now two vacancies. All but two of the 176 Republicans have co-sponsored the measure, along with 56 Democrats.

But the sponsors' problem now is to get them to follow up by signing the petition -- an act of direct defiance of the leadership.

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