Friday, December 20, 2002

House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, said yesterday he intends to stick to President Bush’s overall spending limit for federal agencies, and will urge members to agree so they can quickly pass long-overdue fiscal 2003 spending bills when Congress convenes in January.

“It is imperative that we complete our work in January,” Mr. Young said yesterday. “Further delay would negatively impact homeland security and other important government functions. The president has stated that we should stick within a $750.5 billion top-line budget number, and it is my intention to do so.”

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and incoming Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, feels the same, a spokeswoman said. The two men met with Mr. Bush several weeks ago and agreed to the budget plan, Mr. Young said.

The Democratic-led Senate this year was not able to pass a budget to reconcile with the House-passed budget. Congress passed only two of the 13 spending bills for fiscal 2003 before adjourning, leaving plans for election reform, homeland security and other key measures without their necessary funding.

Congress completed the Defense and Military Construction spending bills, then passed a “continuing resolution,” funding the rest of the agencies at 2002 levels until Jan. 11.

When the next Congress convenes in early January, Mr. Young said, he expects the House and Senate will quickly pass another continuing resolution extending funding levels through the end of January. He hopes that will be sufficient to meet his and the president’s goal of having a fiscal 2003 budget in time for the State of the Union address on Jan. 28.

Mr. Young said a second continuing resolution will become the vehicle that will carry the remaining 11 spending bills into law. He said he and Mr. Stevens have developed levels for each spending bill, but they are not releasing those numbers.

“We’re going to have to make some hits; there’s going to be some reductions,” Mr. Young said, noting that while the House budget was in line with the president’s request, the Senate wanted to spend at least $9 billion more.

Mr. Young would not say what those reductions would be. Democrats and some moderate Republicans were pushing for more funding in areas such as education.

From the $750.5 billion, Congress has approved spending $359.8 billion on defense and $10 billion on military construction, leaving about $385.15 billion for the remaining bills, he said.

“Probably nobody’s going to be really happy with the bill we produce,” Mr. Young said.

He said Congress must finish the budget quickly because the fiscal 2004 spending process will be starting. The president likely will send a supplemental funding request to Capitol Hill early next year as well, he said.

Mr. Young’s Democratic counterpart on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, said this week that the administration consistently has failed to provide enough money for the homeland security it claims to support.

Because the president allowed lawmakers to leave town without passing the remaining spending bills, Mr. Obey said, “many key agencies are now functioning at a level that is well below even the amount requested by the president.”

“This is affecting our ability to hire needed personnel in federal law enforcement agencies, in the Coast Guard and Customs Service and in responding to bioterrorism,” he said.

In addition, he said, the Department of Justice is refusing to spend the $651 million allowed under the continuing resolution for rescue workers who are the first to respond to emergencies.

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