- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Congressional staff and the White House hope to reach agreement by week's end on a budget framework for fiscal 2002, as previously contentious items melt away in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
While the framework being negotiated will not specifically resolve the 13 annual appropriations bills and has yet to be considered by Appropriations Committee members or House and Senate leaders, those close to the talks say they are making progress and there is reason for optimism.
Still, lawmakers are already planning a two-week stopgap spending bill for the first weeks of October to keep the government's doors open the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1 until the permanent spending bills have been enacted.
The draft upon which staff are working would set the dollar amount for each of the 13 annual spending bills, plus resolve how much extra to spend on education and defense. It would also set a target for cuts and other "savings" to assure that the regular appropriations bills leave intact the surplus attributable to Social Security.
While emergency appropriations will almost certainly force total appropriations to borrow from Social Security surpluses, there is still a general agreement that the normal appropriations bills should not, aides said yesterday.
The White House has also said it wants to keep talks about how to spend $40 billion in disaster and emergency relief, approved by Congress last week, separate from the regular budget talks.
The House has passed nine appropriations bills and the Senate has passed six.
So far, negotiations on the specifics of those bills have not begun.
The House plans today or tomorrow to formally appoint negotiators, called conferees, for all six of the bills passed by the Senate.
Several key Appropriations Committee members said shortly after last week's attack that congressional unity in reaction to the attack would not spill over into other debates.
Even if it did, those members said, it would not speed up the resolution of spending bills.
"There are just too many issues yet to be resolved," said one Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Since then, however, the enormity of the incident has sunk in and there appears to be consensus, at least for now, that members of both parties will ignore differences on all but the most important of matters.
A Republican leadership aide said there will still be fights. "We have not changed our genetic makeup since last week," the aide said. But both sides will pick their fights more judiciously.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said last week some of those fights will be evidence of the nation's strength.
"From the outside, democracies sometimes appear weak … sometimes appear unwilling to act decisively," Mr. Hoyer said. "But those who perceive weakness where there is incredible strength make an awful terrible mistake."

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