MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA The Republican House leader said he is prepared to strip $2 billion in federal money out of the social services budget if that’s what it takes to advance the GOP budget bills. The announcement comes as the House gets ready to debate the measures Wednesday, and the Republican majority works to get a coalition to advance its spending plans. The GOP also unveiled plans to further split up the budget and delay hearings. House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, said he is focused on doing whatever he can to get the budget bills out of the sharply divided House, including stripping the federal money to ensure the support of all the House Republicans and the chamber’s lone Constitution Party member. Removing the federal money from the Department of Health and Human Service budget which is used to pay for programs like Medicaid looms as a real possibility as a stalemate develops. Lange said he hopes Senate Democrats would restore the money taken out by the House Republicans, if it comes to that. He said his cuts would just be “procedural.” “It would just be about moving the bill over there,” Lange said. Democrats have vowed to oppose the six GOP budget bills, a position solidified by the revelation Tuesday that the GOP will be further dividing the measures into eight bills. The chamber has used one bill based on the governor’s budget for the past 30 years. Republican leaders have vowed, in turn, that the single bill based on Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s proposed budget will not be resurrected. Ever since Republicans unceremoniously killed the governor’s budget offering, Democrats have united in an effort to stop GOP plans. The latest move to further divvy up the budget was offered as proof by them that the Republican plan is flawed. Without support from any of the chamber’s 49 Democrats, Republicans could be forced to cut the budget enough to get the support of all 50 Republicans and Rep. Rick Jore, C-Ronan, who has vowed to oppose federal money in the social services and education budgets. Once the Senate gets the bills, and restores the money, Lange hopes “the Democrats settle down and vote for it.” The governor’s office said stripping federal money out of key programs would be an unprecedented budget move. “It’s over the top,” said David Ewer, Schweitzer’s budget director. “This is pretty nuclear.” Ewer noted that the programs like medicaid and temporary assistance for needy families are largely federal money, and serve as society’s safety net. “These moneys from the federal government are moneys that Montanans pay (in federal taxes),” Ewer said. “I’m at a loss as to why we wouldn’t want to have our federal tax moneys we pay to the federal government returned to us.” Lange said Republicans decided to further split up the GOP budget bills to head off the possibility that Senate Democrats could have used a broad title in one of the bills to resurrect the governor’s budget, known as House Bill 2. The new bills will need committee hearings, likely Friday, before floor debate on Saturday. Democrats pointed out that will make it impossible for them to make sure they advance a balanced budget if they only hear portions during the first floor debates, while other pieces hang in the air. “We are being dealt new surprises every day,” said House Minority Leader John Parker, D-Great Falls.