- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

House Republican leaders are ready to carry through on their promise to conservative members that the first spending bill to be considered on the chamber floor will be the thorny Labor-HHS-Education bill.
That's a victory for the conservatives, who say getting that bill out of the way early will make it easier to control spending.
"The speaker made a commitment, and I'm sure he's going to honor that commitment the commitment is to bring up Labor-HHS and to bring it out at the level the president requested," said Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, who was a leader in securing the agreement.
"That will enable us to stay within the budget we've passed twice in the House," Mr. Toomey said.
Conservatives feared this year that if the bill was pushed until late in the session, when members are more anxious to go home to campaign rather than stay and fight over budget issues, a majority would accede to more spending in the bill. That could break the $759 billion discretionary spending cap House members agreed to and President Bush has endorsed.
Mr. Toomey and fellow members of the conservative Republican Study Committee staged a filibuster of sorts, delaying action on spending bills in July, to force Republican leaders to agree to bring up the Labor-HHS-Education bill before any others.
For now, the deal is holding.
"We're going to do Labor-HHS first," John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said last week.
But opponents say that doing that bill first, and at the $129.9 billion level the president requested, will shortchange critical needs.
Before the August recess, Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and an Appropriations Committee member, led a group of Republicans who met with Mr. Hastert and expressed their disappointment in the deal particularly the hard spending cap.
The choices that cap leaves, Mr. Castle said in a telephone interview, is to leave the president's request for spending at the National Institutes of Health unchanged, or to fulfill the goal of doubling it over five years, but shortchange other education and health programs, or to slice a couple of billion dollars from NIH to fund some of those programs.
"I don't think the president's budget can pass as is, unless they twist arms, but otherwise they're talking about a reallocation of funds," he said. "I think everybody basically supports the concept of doubling NIH funding in five years, and this is the fifth year. Essentially, you're in a Catch-22."
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and Appropriations Committee chairman, also opposed the deal in July, but John Scofield, a spokesman for Mr. Young and the committee, said a bill is ready to go directly to the floor immediately if need be.
At that point, it would be up to Republican leaders to deliver the votes, Mr. Castle said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its own Labor-HHS-Education bill on July 18, and it is now awaiting floor action. It calls for spending $134.3 billion.
Of the 13 yearly appropriations bills, the full Senate has passed three: defense, military construction and legislative spending. The full House has passed five spending bills, including the same three as the Senate, and members likely will approve a conference to iron out differences in the military construction and defense bills this week.
Still, with about a month left until Congress is scheduled to adjourn so members can go back to campaign for election, chance are slim that all the bills will be passed by both houses and the differences worked out.
Some members are already speculating about which spending bills will be part of a continuing resolution to keep government operating during the election recess.


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