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Two Pilots of GOP Spending Strategy Use Differing Styles

The Budget

From The Post
  • Congressional Profiles: Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Jerry Lewis
  • By Eric Pianin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, October 17, 1999; Page A6

    The situation was bleak: Talks over the fate of the F-22 fighter plane had collapsed, and a hot-tempered Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, refused to even speak to the House's chief negotiator, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).

    Stevens (R-Alaska) was fighting to save the program and was furious with Lewis's discussion of the talks with reporters. Enter House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), Stevens's opposite number and a soothing influence in the often stormy budget negotiations.

    By meeting separately with Stevens and Lewis and then bringing them together in his Capitol office, the soft-spoken Young eased the tensions and helped get the crucial talks back on track, according to sources. The key to dealing with such problems, Young later said, was to "keep smiling and just talk it out."

    In both temperment and style, the two men charged with implementing the Republican spending strategy this fall are a study in contrasts, and yet they have worked well together through difficult times.

    "I maintain a very close relationship with Chairman Young" as well as with the ranking Democrats, Stevens said in an interview last week. "We do have some personalities involved in the appropriations process that are unfortunate from time to time, but not among . . . us, thankfully."

    Stevens, 75, is one of the surviving Old Bulls of the Senate, a gruff, Harvard-educated trial lawyer and master tactician with a wry sense of humor but a storied temper. The 68-year-old Young, by contrast, is a self-effacing former insurance salesman--he quit high school to support an ailing mother--whose rise to power is more a testament to patience than cunning.

    "His style is very noncontroversial," a senior House GOP aide said of Young. "He is arguably the most patient man in Washington. . . . Stevens is very smart, and temper is one of the weapons in his arsenal."

    Indeed, Stevens is a self-described "mean, miserable S.O.B." who took the reins of the Senate committee in 1997, after Republican Mark O. Hatfield (Ore.) retired. "I believe in using my temper, not losing my temper," Stevens said.

    Peeved that the Clinton administration had virtually dictated spending policy to the Republicans the previous year, Stevens took over as chairman vowing to reassert his committee's prerogatives and independence.

    Now the Senate's second most senior Republican, Stevens for three decades has been an influential voice on issues ranging from defense and foreign policy to the budget, the environment and transportation safety. He also is an indefatigable--some say shameless--champion of Alaskan interests. For much the same time, Young labored quietly on his committee, maintaining a low profile outside of his St. Petersburg district.

    Young, a conservative trailblazer in Florida's Republican party, watched as then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) handpicked Bob Livingston (La.), a more junior member, to head the Appropriations Committee when the GOP took over the reins of Congress after the 1994 elections. As a consolation, Young was given the chairmanship of the defense appropriations subcommittee. When first Gingrich and them Livingston resigned after the GOP's poor showing in last year's elections, Young ascended to the chairmanship.

    This year, Young and Stevens have had to navigate through the competing demands and interests of the House and Senate Republican leadership, rank-and-file members, special interests and the White House in shaping the 13 major spending bills. Wars, hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts added to the pressure to exceed the spending limits that Congress set two years ago.

    "The real problem has been to try to make this money stretch to cover an entire set of circumstances that were not envisioned when the budget act of 1997 was agreed to and the [spending] ceilings were set," Stevens said.

    Unwilling to accept a repeat of last year, when the White House extracted virtually all the additional spending it sought as part of a single massive spending bill, Young and Stevens are under orders to pass all 13 appropriations bills (they have three to go) and then challenge President Clinton to either sign or veto them. The appropriators also are attempting for the first time to pass bills without dipping into surplus Social Security funds--a task that has necessitated the unprecedented use of $46 billion worth of imaginative accounting tactics.

    Stevens argues that many of the tactics make sense and notes that the president used many of the same gimmicks in his fiscal 2000 budget.

    To some degree, the opposite styles and personalities of the two chairmen are well suited to the different political realities of the two chambers.

    Stevens has been more assertive and influential in shaping spending legislation, in part because he has been granted more leeway by the Senate leadership and enjoys more support from his committee's Democrats, particularly Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.). Because the Senate's rules grant more power to individual members to block the process if they choose, appropriations in the chamber by necessity must be more bipartisan than in the House.

    Stevens has been helped by his friendship with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who doubles as a member of the Appropriations Committee and has worked closely with Stevens to maximize the available funds.

    Young, by contrast, has been hemmed in more in the House, whipsawed by conservative activists pushing for more spending cuts and a GOP leadership that has insisted upon micromanaging the appropriations process. Given Young's management style, he has also deferred much of the decision-making to subcommittee chairmen.

    Early this year, Young warned House Republicans that they were headed for serious budget problems this fall unless they lifted the spending caps imposed by the 1997 budget deal and pursued a more politically pragmatic course. Even if Congress just stuck to last year's levels, he warned, it would break the spending caps by at least $17 billion.

    But rather than provoking a confrontation with the leadership, Young has rolled with the punches, noting that many of the decisions on budget tactics were technically outside his jurisdiction. And now he believes the Republicans are on the verge of a major breakthrough.

    "We've balanced the budget, we have more money coming in than we're spending," Young said, "and by the time this process is completed, we'll be able to honestly say we have not spent any of the Social Security trust fund--which is a major first."

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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