- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Congressional negotiators and the White House have struck a deal allowing $686 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2002 and ending weeks of deadlock.

The deal, which would allow spending to increase by $25 billion over a budget approved by Congress just months ago, clears the way for speedy resolution of the 13 annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2002, which actually began Monday.

"This agreement [is] the result of a strong bipartisan effort at this critical time for our nation, and I expect that all parties will now proceed expeditiously," President Bush wrote in a deal-sealing letter to congressional leaders yesterday afternoon.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Mr. Bush said the budget agreement "would be a welcome relief from the old budget battles of the past."

None of the fiscal 2002 appropriations bills has been enacted. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said, "With this agreement in place Congress can move forward quickly to finish all of the appropriations bills in a responsible manner."

"We are very pleased we were able to reach a deal in a bipartisan way," said David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said his boss is not happy with the level of spending, "however, he believes we need to move the process along before we see even more spending increases."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey said passing the budget will be one of the House's top priorities and predicted Congress could complete its work for the year by Oct. 31.

The budget resolution approved by Congress last spring would have allowed $661 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2002. The White House then asked for an extra $18.4 billion for defense. Congressional negotiators also championed the addition of another $4 billion for education and $2.2 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

All three additions are accommodated under the deal, which is essentially the same as one reached between congressional Democratic and Republican negotiators on Sept. 21 and then proposed to the White House.

At the time, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels was not enthusiastic about the proposal and talks stalled.

He made several attempts to see other programs cut to reduce the overall amount of spending in 2002, but those offers were rejected.

Tension over the ensuing weeks ran high, with members of both parties growing irritated with Mr. Daniels, staffers said.

One reporter yesterday asked Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, whether it was "true you called Mitch Daniels a blankety blank."

Mr. Stevens, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, responded, "I have never called anyone a 'blankety-blank.' I always fill in those blanks."

Several sources attributed this week's breakthrough in negotiations to Vice President Richard B. Cheney, to whom Mr. Lott and Mr. Stevens had personally appealed.

The final stumbling block had been whether the White House would formally request the extra spending with an amended budget request or an informal letter. In yesterday's note, Mr. Bush asked for that extra spending.

Democrats feared that if they did not have something in writing from the White House asking for the extra money, the administration would try to tar them as spendthrifts before next year's election.

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