Defense spending talks might spill over into next week

House and Senate Appropriations committee sources today said the chances are 50-50 at best they can conclude conference committee meetings on the $317 billion Defense spending bill and $20 billion anti-terrorism supplemental title by the end of the week.

Given the sheer magnitude of the Defense spending bill itself, which the Senate only passed late Friday night, sources cautioned it could take into next week to reconcile the House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill--and point out that the record for conferencing a Defense appropriations bill is three weeks.

Although the number of smaller discrepancies between the two bills is extensive, the major unresolved differences concern funding for operations, maintenance and missile defense, Navy ship building and the leasing of air refueling tankers from Boeing.

The House and Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee principals are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning in hopes of expediting the laborious process--while the four full committee principals could meet as early as Tuesday on the equally thorny matter of reconciling the House and Senate versions of the $20 billion supplemental.

Failing in his quest to add another $15 billion for homeland security and domestic recovery to the supplemental, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.,--along with Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska--offered a compromise $20 billion supplemental title that allotted $2 billion for defense, $9.5 billion in aid for New York, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia metropolitan area, and $8.5 billion for homeland defense.

The homeland defense figure includes $3.1 billion for bioterrorism and food safety, $600 million for the Postal Service, $1.7 billion for federal law enforcement, $530 million for air and transit security, $775 million to secure federal buildings and nuclear power plants, $50 million for port security, $226 million for nuclear nonproliferation, and $709 million for border security.

In contrast, the House-passed supplemental contained significantly more for defense, $7.2 billion, or nearly the entire amount the President requested, as well as $7.4 billion for New York and other domestic relief, and $5.4 billion for homeland security.

But because the President has already allocated $13.7 billion out of the $20 billion supplemental spending the administration controls, and has promised to request another supplemental early next year, congressional sources were hopeful he would settle for less than the House supplemental funding level for the defense portion.

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