- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

House Democrats hope to make political hay with a $6.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill, arguing that the bill currently focused largely on the military should provide West Coast consumers and others with relief from skyrocketing electricity prices.
"This is a last chance to help low-income families, children and the elderly with what will be a long, hot summer," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat.
"This is all about putting out press releases. This has nothing to do with appropriations," said John Scoffield, spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee.
"They are just trying to make us take tough votes," said a House Republican leadership aide. "This is just demagoguery."
The measure, which comes up on the House floor today, is intended to supplement money appropriated last fall for fiscal 2001. It includes $5.5 billion for military programs and $2.5 billion for other programs, including energy assistance for low-income families, repairs for flood-ravaged areas and extra staff for Congress.
The bill also reduces funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Section 8 housing, bringing the net cost of the plan to $6.5 billion.
The bill would provide $300 million in extra funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Democrats would like to see that amount doubled to $600 million.
House Republicans are likely to leave the measure open to amendment. While Republicans have routinely limited debate and amendments to major legislation, particularly tax bills, appropriations bills generally have been left open to debate and revision, House Republican aides explained yesterday.
But Democrats still face two major hurdles.
First, the overall cost of the bill cannot exceed $6.5 billion. Any spending beyond that would be subject to a point of order requiring a majority vote to override.
Secondly, Democrats would like to attach energy reform legislation to the bill, but that also would be subject to a point of order, this time for legislating on an appropriations bill.
In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, has said he wants to move the supplemental appropriations bill largely as proposed by the president.
Still, trouble could be brewing for at least a portion of the bill.
The measure provides $116 million to the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to implement the tax rebate authorized in the tax cut bill approved by Congress earlier this year.
But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, says a proposed letter to herald the rebate "crosses the line [from] providing useful information to the taxpayer [ to] striking a partisan tone."
The letter begins: "We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001."
The letter goes on to note that the act "provides long-term tax relief for all Americans who pay income taxes."
Mr. Schumer said the letter reads more like a sweepstakes letter from Ed McMahon than a public service announcement.
The IRS had proposed a letter to alert taxpayers about the rebate checks. The White House said the agency argued that it would receive an onslaught of telephone calls if the checks arrived without explanation.
"You know, the IRS has significant experience in dealing with taxpayers and they understand when there are issues that are going to cause taxpayers to all start reaching out and talking to the IRS," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Mr. Schumer asked incredulously, "Do you think the same guy who wrote your Form 1040 wrote this?"
Mr. Fleischer said that the letter had been a collaborative effort of the IRS, the Treasury Department and the White House, but that the IRS should be praised for writing in "plain English."

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