Appropriators fail to meet on Defense spending bill

Appropriators failed to meet Tuesday to begin reconciling the House and Senate versions of $20 billion in supplemental anti- terrorism spending, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., traded jabs about which side was to blame for the lack of progress.

After meeting with Byrd and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on another matter Tuesday, Young cited Byrd's continued interest in increasing the supplemental for domestic security when he discussed the fiscal 2002 Defense spending bill. Young indicated that Byrd's staff had taken that position when top staffers from the two committees met Monday.

"As long as we can work within the $20 billion, I think we can work it out," Young said. "Both of us are going to have to give a little. But we have to stay within the $20 billion."

President Bush repeatedly threatened to veto the supplemental, which is attached to the $317 billion Defense bill, if it exceeded $20 billion. Byrd attempted to add another $15 billion during last week's Senate floor debate but was defeated on a point of order.

House Appropriations Committee sources said whenever a meeting occurs among the four principals--Young, Byrd, House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., and Senate Appropriations ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska--Young will propose that the two chambers split the difference on the defense funding level, stay as close as possible to the Senate number for New York and pare funding for domestic security.

The Senate-passed supplemental contains $2 billion for defense, $9.5 billion for New York and domestic recovery, and $8.5 billion for domestic security--a compromise Byrd, Stevens and Defense Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, have agreed to.

The House supplemental provided $7.2 billion for defense-- nearly the full $7.3 billion the White House wants--plus $7.4 billion for New York and $5.4 billion for domestic security.

Although Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has urged Congress to give the Pentagon the entire $7.3 billion supplemental it requested, Stevens told reporters Tuesday that not providing the full amount could prompt faster action in Congress.

Stevens said that given the President's authority to cover defense expenses in the short run, the supplemental defense number is "a symbol of support [for the troops] rather than a need for support right now." He added, "If you want to be blunt about it, we're better off having a demand for defense on the supplemental, because that way it moves faster."

Byrd said the Defense Department--which already has gotten $13.7 billion out of the $20 billion in supplemental funds the White House controls--has "more money than they spend." Byrd said the Pentagon has received a total of $42 billion more than fiscal 2001.

Byrd also emphasized to reporters that he is not trying to re- fight the battle for extra supplemental money he lost on the floor. "It is absolutely not my position." Instead, Byrd stressed, "I'm pushing the Senate position. This is what we voted for."

As for when the Defense bill can be finalized, Stevens said: "This is going to be a very difficult bill to put together. It's going to be awfully hard to finish this week."

He predicted it would be finished "by early next week."

Stevens also predicted the Senate would prevail over the House on leasing Boeing 767s to use as air refueling tankers. "I think we'll win that one," he said.

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