- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

Congress, which approved $62.3 billion in emergency Hurricane Katrina relief with little discussion, is asserting more control over the third package of spending for the Gulf Coast being compiled by the administration.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, California Republican, says the next spending request will go through “regular order,” which means it will be subject to committee hearings and votes and amendments will be “very likely.”

“I know our appropriators want to spend a lot more time looking at the request,” said acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is crafting a spending request with input from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and various federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation.

But Capitol Hill lawmakers plan to make their mark when the White House delivers its plan, most likely in October.

“Ultimately, we’re writing it,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, who is one of several lawmakers passing along information to OMB.

Mr. Vitter met Tuesday with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, to discuss the needs of their ravaged states.

Congressional leaders and the OMB also are under pressure from both parties to offset relief spending.

One House Republican member said House leaders and senior OMB officials are considering limiting spending in the next package to whatever Congress is able to cut from other areas of government.

“We want to make sure that the long-term [hurricane] recovery doesn’t cripple our efforts to return to a balanced budget,” the member said.

The House Republican Conference dedicated its Wednesday meeting to the spending issue. The most popular idea was an across-the-board cut of 1 percent or 2 percent for all non-defense, discretionary spending, and squeezing out savings in the final phase of the budget process.

Republican Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee this week introduced bills that would make 1 percent, 2 percent or 5 percent cuts in discretionary spending outside of defense and homeland security.

Senate committee chairmen were directed to find savings within the agencies and programs they oversee.

“With your assistance, we hope to develop a strategy for speedy consideration of all authorizing committee savings proposals,” Republican leaders wrote to Mr. Cochran. “In addition, other monies might be achieved through rescinding previously appropriated monies for programs that now, in light of current events, have a much lower priority.”

The leaders asked President Bush to rescind “unnecessary and low-priority federal expenditures” and to appoint a centralized inspector general to oversee hurricane spending.

Meanwhile, OMB spokesman Scott Milburn said the office is fielding regular requests and input from federal agencies, members of Congress and state officials for supplemental spending.

“It’s a process where you compile those needs,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving parts; it’s a collaborative effort.”

Mr. Milburn, who wouldn’t give a time frame for submitting the spending request, said OMB officials are looking for savings in the package.

“I think it’ll be a submission by the White House, but it will be vetted by our leaders in the House and Senate and scrubbed pretty well,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

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