MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Yet another effort by House Republicans to move a social services budget didn’t even get the vote of the chamber’s top Republican, House Speaker Scott Sales. It was another bizarre day in the House on Wednesday: Republicans argued for more money for welfare programs while Democrats joined fiscal conservatives in voting against it. “I presume there is no goodwill left between us,” House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, said as Democrats locked up against the measure. The latest twist in the tortured route the budget is taking through the House ended in another stalemate. The House, despite many efforts from Lange, has yet to find a way to endorse a budget for the Department of Public Health and Human Services. The version shot down Wednesday on a 56-44 vote mirrored spending levels requested by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. And Democrats pointed out the opposition was bipartisan including a “no” vote from Sales, a Bozeman Republican. The opposition would better be called tri-partisan. It included all 49 Democrats, six Republicans and the sole Constitution Party representative. Rep. Dan Villa, D-Anaconda, called the vote a “last desperate attempt to put a rudder on a captain-less ship.” Lange responded with a promise: “We’ll drive the bus.” He said a plan to strip the DPHHS budget altogether remains an option for Republicans, despite previous doubts that he has the votes in his own caucus to do it. Or the House could just skip the budget, and force Senate Democrats to find a way to amend the DPHHS spending plan into another bill an option that has received a predictably cool response from Senate Democrats. And Lange said he will continue to talk to Democratic leadership about other solutions. “I think it makes the body look poor when the whole Democratic caucus lines up behind the governor’s will,” he said. Democrats made another failed attempt Wednesday to resuscitate the governor’s single budget bill, known as House Bill 2. “I stand here to offer the hand, offer the solution that was formed in a bipartisan way in the traditional budget process,” said House Minority Whip Bob Bergren, D-Havre, before the motion failed 49-48. The House Republicans have pushed through seven other budget bills, all above the objections of Democrats who want to return to the single budget bill used for the last 30 years. But the DPHHS budget has turned into a “political football,” as Republican Rep. Penny Morgan of Billings called it. Republicans chided Democrats for voting against programs they traditionally support just because they object to the new GOP budget process. House Minority Floor Leader Art Noonan, D-Butte, said Republicans are Only seeking Democratic help on the GOP budget process when they desperately need it. “And now we’re to blame that you didn’t write the finale to this act?” Noonan said. So far, the effort by the House GOP to force through a new budget process despite only holding a razor-thin pseudo-majority has failed to deliver a complete budget out of the chamber. Rank-and-file Republicans pleaded with House Democrats to end the partisan standoff. Morgan, in a tearful appeal to get support for the measure, said the money goes to programs used by people who really need them. She said she has had a tough year personally. “I realized that no matter how hard my life was, I was far more fortunate than the people this bill helps,” she said. The roughly $3 billion DPHHS budget covers a myriad of programs, from Meals on Wheels to Medicaid to temporary financial assistance for needy families. At day’s end, Lange was able to get Republican votes to again indefinitely postpone the DPHHS budget for another vote.