- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of a House panel overseeing the presidential transition agreed yesterday to co-sponsor fast-track legislation to dislodge $5.3 million of transition funds tied up by the Florida legal quagmire.
Rep. Steve Horn, California Republican and chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee, struck the bipartisan deal with Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat, after the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) testified that the Justice Department had issued a formal advisory supporting his denial of transition assistance to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the apparent president-elect.
The lawmakers said they wanted to move the special legislation to the House floor for quick passage by the end of the week. The bill would then face Senate action and require President Clinton's signature.
They said the bill would provide Mr. Bush and Vice President Al Gore immediate federal funds for transition assistance and would authorize government reimbursement of private funds used by either side for transition costs once a presidential winner is determined conclusively.
David J. Barram, the GSA administrator, said he was unable to release $5.3 million already appropriated by Congress because federal law required him to "ascertain [the] apparent successful candidates" for president and vice president, which he could not do until the Florida legal morass is settled.
As the hearing unfolded, Democrats on the panel supported Mr. Barram's position, but skeptical Republicans said transition support should go to both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore in order to have an orderly government changeover Jan. 20.
During Mr. Barram's testimony, Mr. Horn told him that the U.S. Supreme Court had just vacated a Florida Supreme Court ruling that favored Mr. Gore's request for further manual vote recounts in several Florida counties.
"Is that a little road stone that might get some money loose?" Mr. Horn asked.
"I don't want to predict how I will select an apparent winner," Mr. Barram responded. "No one wants to prolong this longer than necessary. I don't want to say whether that's a little step or a big step, but obviously [the Supreme Court ruling] is important."
"Somehow, the business of the country has to be addressed," Rep. Doug Ose, California Republican, told Mr. Barram. "I mean, this has to move."
The administrator said GSA has a 10-year lease on a downtown Washington building, modernized at a cost of $50 million, with 90,000 square feet "fully furnished and equipped" for transition headquarters. But Justice said the transition could not commence, "even though it would be easier to do that," he testified.
"I'll go out with my Magic Marker and draw a line down the middle of the room one on one side, one on the other," Mr. Ose said in urging GSA to provide transition help to both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore until a definite decision is reached on the presidential election outcome.
Mr. Turner said "the orderly transition … is of utmost importance," but he said the country faced "unique circumstances" that were "unprecedented" in determining a presidential winner. The Texas Democrat issued a "plea for bipartisanship owing to the closeness of the election."
Top advisers to President Clinton and Presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower pleaded with the panel and the administration for a solution to the transition problem especially to streamline paperwork and background checks for top-level appointees.
Jack H. Watson Jr., White House chief of staff for President Carter, said incoming presidents and their teams faced a "formidable challenge," but minimized complaints about the delay.
"There is no constitutional, presidential, governmental or other crisis here," Mr. Watson said. "There is an incredibly close election."
John H. Sununu, chief of staff for President Bush, said the issue was "not whether there is a crisis or not a crisis, [but] whether it is good to facilitate the transition process or not good … .
"There is no time that will be as precious. This is quality time for transition," Mr. Sununu said. "You can focus on it. You are not burdened by responsibilities you will have to focus on after Jan. 20."

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