- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has pledged to craft spending bills within the relatively austere guidelines set in the 2004 budget. But fiscal conservatives are skeptical and said they will “crash” any bills that spend too much.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and committee chairman, has met with the Republican leadership in both ends of the Capitol to hash out a framework for marking up the 13 spending bills for next year.

Each meeting, including another one yesterday that was a prelude to a White House summit early next week, ends the same way — with little consensus on what to do.

Conflicts have arisen over how to stick to the spending caps set in the $784.5 billion budget resolution, especially since $9.2 billion in spending for 2004 has been allocated to programs in various fields such as education and veterans benefits.

The key to moving the spending bills is agreeing what to do with several billion dollars left over from the supplemental spending bill that paid for the war in Iraq, which ended sooner than expected.

“We had not spent as much money as we allocated for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we thought we could recover some of it,” Mr. Young said.

Republicans, however, are reluctant to be seen as cutting defense spending at a time of war. A White House endorsement to use some of that leftover money for nondefense purposes would get the spending process started quickly.

“Once the dam breaks, we’re going to see bills right away,” Mr. Young said. “We have some bills that we can mark up next week.”

But that few billion of extra spending may not be enough to mollify some Congressional spenders. Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and a leading fiscal conservative, said he will fiercely resist the tendency to add to spending bills as the process moves along.

Last year, House conservatives formed a voting bloc to stymie spending bills until leaders would agree to limit them to budget specifications.

“We’ll crash the bills again,” Mr. Flake said. “We’ll crash as many as we need to. We have to impose some fiscal discipline.”

The spending process broke down last year when the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to pass a budget. The result was a messy omnibus spending bill for this year that was approved several months late.

“Everyone wants to avoid what happened last year,” said John Scofield, spokesman for Mr. Young. “It was a big mess and took years off our lives.”

Mr. Young said there is increased pressure to see the spending process go smoothly this year because Republicans are in control of Congress and the White House.

“We have a very strong incentive to work together,” Mr. Young said.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the Budget Committee, ridiculed the Republican budget and spending plans, calling it a “shell game” and predicting a political flame-out.

“They don’t even seem to think they can do it,” Mr. Obey said. “What do you think they have been talking about for weeks?”

While pledging to adhere to the budget’s guidelines, Mr. Young, nonetheless, called the budget “austere” and “fairly unreal in many situations.”

“They nickel and dime us,” said Mr. Young, noting that the majority of the budget is swallowed up by mandatory spending in entitlement programs such as Medicare.

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