- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Congress plans a flurry of votes this week for key spending bills that will be a test of the Republican leadership’s ability to keep to its legislative schedule and restrain spending.

That effort became more difficult, however, when a $1.9 billion supplemental-spending request from the White House to cover disaster relief was delivered Tuesday morning. Supplemental bills traditionally balloon as legislators attach pet projects.

Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said the supplemental bill — to pay for fighting forest fires, the investigation of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and future hurricane damage — is likely to be attached to another spending bill to reduce the chances of attracting additional spending projects.

“I hope we will be able to exhibit some discipline,” Mr. Nickles said. “We should remember that the president didn’t ask for anything more.”

If considered alone, the emergency-spending bill will require 60 votes to pass in the Senate, and fiscal conservatives are likely to use that leverage to their advantage.

“It helps to keep it from larding up,” Mr. Nickles said.

Conservatives might also ask for budget offsets if the supplemental spending “gets out of hand,” said Sean Spicer, spokesman for House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican.

“There’s always someone who says, ‘This is the perfect vehicle to drive this’” issue, Mr. Spicer said. For the bill to stay near $1.9 billion, Mr. Spicer said, President Bush must get involved.

“The president has to say that ‘I need this clean,’” Mr. Spicer said. “He needs to say, ‘We need certain things, but it’s not Christmas.’”

The White House, Republican congressional leaders and the chief appropriators agreed last month to a $785 billion cap on discretionary spending this year. The rest of the federal government’s $2.2 trillion budget covers mandatory spending, such as Medicare benefits.

Staying within the caps has proven to be a challenge, as lawmakers have fought over funds. Republican leaders were able to satisfy the demand for more domestic spending earlier this year by diverting $5.2 billion from defense. That money is likely to be restored through a supplemental-spending bill expected in the fall.

House Majority Leader Tom Delay, Texas Republican, said that tackling the two largest spending bills — one for defense, the other for labor, health and human services, and education — is part of a plan to do the heavy lifting first. Those two spending bills, out of a total of 13, consume a little more than half of all discretionary spending.

“This is part of the agreements that have been made between the House and Senate, and the White House,” Mr. DeLay said. “We want to get the two biggest bills out first to establish that we’re going to stick to these [spending targets] that were laid out in agreement with the House, Senate and White House.”

The $368.7 billion defense bill was expected to be approved by the House last night with relatively few dissenting votes. The House’s $138 billion labor, hhs and education bill is expected to hit the floor tomorrow.

That bill is often a target for conflict and delay because it covers spending for politically popular education and health programs.

“It’s always been that labor-HHS is the last bill out, and we think it’s important to get it out first, as well as the Department of Defense bill out first, to establish momentum for the appropriations process,” Mr. DeLay said.

Republicans expect Democrats to argue that the measure doesn’t spend enough for education and social programs, but John Scofield, spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the complaints are unfounded.

“We’re getting the same charges,” Mr. Scofield said, adding that the labor, HHS and education bill reflects a 6 percent increase from last year. “I don’t think [the vote] will be unanimous, but if you look at the bill, we have generous increases.”

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