There’s no split between Republican House freshmen and their leaders over the handling of the budget negotiations, Rep. George Nethercutt said Thursday.
“The tail isn’t wagging the dog. The dog is one unit,” the Spokane Republican told a Downtown Rotary Club luncheon group. “We’re being more reasonable than we’re being portrayed.”
But House Republicans won’t back off of the commitment to balance the budget in seven years, using economic figures from the Congressional Budget Office, he said.
“We don’t want to put this off,” Nethercutt told some 250 people by phone from his office in Washington, D.C.
Originally scheduled to appear at the luncheon, Nethercutt remained in the capital because of the budget impasse. Rotarians improvised by placing a microphone in front of a speaker phone next to the podium.
In a later interview, he took issue with news reports that the GOP freshman class of which he is a member - forced Speaker Newt Gingrich to back out of an agreement with the White House and Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole to bring the federal government back to full strength.
That agreement began to unravel a few minutes after the meeting when Vice President Al Gore told reporters the White House had not agreed to a seven-year timetable and the CBO’s figures. That was, in fact, part of the agreement.
When House Republicans heard Gore’s comments, they were unified in saying “if we can’t trust what happens in the meetings, why give them anything,” Nethercutt said.
The White House later disavowed Gore’s remarks. But at the same time, Clinton criticized Republican freshmen.
“This is sort of a chicken-and-egg argument. But by then it was too late,” Nethercutt said.
Despite the prolonged dispute, Nethercutt said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that temporary funding for veterans benefits and Aid to Families with Dependent Children would be approved today. Congress would then recess until Wednesday, turn negotiations over to the leadership and perhaps come back to an agreement on the budget.