- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Congress and President Bush return this week to Washington from a monthlong vacation to face a daunting agenda for the remainder of the year.
Not a single appropriations bill for fiscal 2002, which begins on Oct. 1, has been signed into law, and lawmakers from both parties have at least a half-dozen complicated and controversial pieces of legislation they would like to see enacted before recessing for the year.
Lawmakers had hoped to leave town for the year on Oct. 5, but there appears to be no chance of meeting that deadline. Many aides and lawmakers are now predicting Congress will stay in session until Thanksgiving and possibly into December.
Speaking to reporters Friday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush will "focus like a laser beam" on legislation to increase spending on defense and education, a patients' rights and health maintenance organization reform bill, legislation allowing faith-based organizations to receive federal money and energy legislation.
To that end, President Bush plans a series of one-on-one meetings with congressional leaders from both parties next week.
Immediately upon its return, the Senate will resume debate on revising and reauthorizing export administration laws, which establish guidelines for the licensing of exports and restrictions on exports to certain countries and certain types of goods and services.
But the biggest hurdle Congress faces, or at least the most pressing one, is passing the 13 annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2002. Compared with the pace set for the past 20 years, Congress is about on schedule. The House has passed nine appropriations bills and the Senate has passed five.
What makes this year different from those in recent past is the state of the economy. Rather than surplus revenues greasing the skids of tough-to-pass bills, a tightening budget means tough fights over vanishing resources.
President Bush and House Republican leaders also have heralded a showdown over the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services bills. Mr. Bush has insisted Congress send him those bills first and House Republicans leaders have so far refused to begin negotiations on any other bills. A House Appropriations Committee aide said there is no such strategy and that the House and Senate will begin conferencing bills almost as soon as Congress returns.
Tied to the budget fight is Mr. Bush's request for extra money for defense. During this spring's budget debate, Republicans successfully separated the debate over "military modernization" from the larger discussion over other spending versus tax cuts.
Now, however, dollars are scarce.
"Getting the money for defense will be the toughest fight the president faces this fall," said a House Republican leadership aide. While there is broad bipartisan support for increasing defense spending, there is also concern that reduced revenues will put the government at risk of borrowing from Social Security revenues to keep the budget in balance.
"Debt reduction and the attendant concern about Social Security are going to play a big roll this fall," the aide said.
Beyond the budget, there will be a host of battles, too.
The House would like the Senate to take up energy legislation that would open up new areas for oil exploration, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and provide tax incentives for energy conservation and production. They also want the Senate to consider legislation giving the president broader rights to negotiate trade agreements and to assure those agreements are considered on a fast track in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, had nearly a dozen items on his wish list this summer, but in light of dwindling time and limited resources he will pare that list down.
Must-pass bills include the appropriations bills and the defense authorization bill, said Mr. Daschle's spokeswoman Anita Dunne, but he is still very interested in passing a patients' rights bill, an increase in the minimum wage, and legislation banning genetics-based discrimination by employers, health care providers and others.


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