- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Negotiations over the long-delayed 2003 omnibus spending bill have added billions of dollars in additional funding for the military, Amtrak, Medicare and drought relief, leaving doubts about whether the final product can fit under President Bush’s $390 billion limit on nonmilitary spending.
Congressional negotiators over the weekend added $6 billion to the bill for military operations in Afghanistan a direct request from Vice President Richard B. Cheney. That amount is in addition to $4 billion previously approved for intelligence programs.
As the White House and Congress add special funding requests, they have a harder sell for across-the-board cuts to stay within the president’s discretionary spending limit.
John Scofield, spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, said most of the additional spending requests are coming from the Senate, whose negotiators still endorse 3 percent across-the-board cuts to pay for those proposals.
House negotiators never have warmed to that idea.
Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, has derided the Senate’s strategy as “a gimmick.”
“We’d like to keep that cut to under 1 percent,” Mr. Scofield said. “Any more and you start to do real harm.”
Mr. Scofield pointed to funding for the FBI, which, after earlier cuts, would be reduced by $500 million if a 3 percent across-the-board cut was implemented.
Most details have been resolved, said House Republican sources, with just some “big-ticket items” remaining in the 2003 spending package, which is more than four months late.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, still plans to stick to his “ambitious” schedule that would put the 2003 omnibus spending bill on the House floor for approval tomorrow or Thursday.
That will take some work.
Senate Republicans have added $3.1 billion in drought aid to farmers, $1.5 billion to update voting systems in various states, $1.5 billion to funnel more Medicare payments to doctors, and a boost in funding for the Amtrak passenger railroad.
Mr. Bush has been adamant about not including additional drought aid in the budget. He insists the $180 billion farm bill passed last spring provides enough funding for such assistance.
“We tend to agree [with the president], but we’re trying to convince the Senate of that,” Mr. Scofield said. “That is still to be worked out.”
Negotiators met for 2 hours last night in a jam-packed room steps from the Senate chamber in hopes of resolving final disputes. But they broke up with House lawmakers refusing to approve the farm-drought money.
“There will be no bill without the drought provision,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, as last night’s talks ended.
Mr. Stevens also has proposed $100 million to help fishermen, $35 million of which would go to his state. He has stated on the Senate floor that Mr. Bush’s $390 billion spending cap is wise, but he expects the final bill to include a few percentage points in more spending than that.
On Feb. 4, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. sent a letter to congressional leaders with a list of demands and requests to avoid a presidential veto. Mr. Scofield downplayed the threat, predicting the White House would be pleased with the final product.
“We’ll get the administration what it wants,” Mr. Scofield said. “They’ve asked us for another $6 billion in defense funds. The budget’s gone up because the administration wants it to go up.
“We’re taking the administration’s concerns in mind, and we think it will be something everyone will be happy with.”
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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