- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee met for about 90 minutes yesterday to begin hashing out differences on 13 annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2002.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican who along with Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. requested the meeting sounded an optimistic note, saying there were only few substantial differences, and not a lot of money, separating them from final deals on most of the bills and agreement that the Social Security surplus was off-limits.
"We had a good meeting," agreed House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.
Fiscal 2002 begins Oct. 1. The House has passed nine of the fiscal 2002 appropriations bills that provide the legal authority to spend U.S. Treasury funds, and the Senate has passed five. But formal negotiations haven't started on any of the annual spending bills.
One of the first tasks will be to assure that Republicans, Democrats and the White House agree on how much money there is and how much new policies will cost, said Mr. Stevens, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee.
While congressional promises to save $40 billion in annual surpluses generated by the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund have fallen by the wayside, lawmakers appear adamant about using all of the $174 billion to be generated by Social Security in 2002 only toward debt reduction.
Rep. David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, was less enthusiastic about the meeting, saying he would be more impressed with "action" rather than "rhetoric."
"Basically, it was just a boilerplate meeting," Mr. Obey, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters.
A Democratic aide later said Mr. Obey was particularly frustrated because while Mr. Daniels said the White House does not want to use the Social Security surplus to pay for other programs, he gave no indication how President Bush would like to accomplish that goal.
Later in the day, Republican leaders and Mr. Bush met to discuss the budget and the economy and mulled the idea of modifying current law to protect the Social Security surplus. Under the current law, if Congress fails to meet certain spending targets, across-the-board spending cuts for all discretionary programs will be triggered.
Republicans are considering a plan that would tie this "sequestration" process not to spending limit targets, but instead to the target of preserving the Social Security surplus, a House leadership aide said yesterday.
Still, Mr. Obey and Mr. Young have a tentative agreement to seek an extra $3.1 billion to $3.5 billion for education in 2002. They presented their case to Mr. Daniels, who agreed to take the proposal under consideration, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
As part of the talks on generating extra education money, the group discussed whether Mr. Bush's proposed policies in the supplemental defense request could be achieved for less than $18 billion.


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