Republican leaders propose select homeland security panel

House Republicans met late Monday afternoon to consider a rules package for the 108th Congress that included a proposal to create a new select committee on homeland security, House GOP aides said.

One GOP source also said "there is a significant sentiment" for merging the Defense and Military Construction Appropriations subcommittees, making way for a homeland security appropriations subcommittee. But an Appropriations Committee spokesman said the panel's leaders have not discussed such an approach.

"This is really [a fiscal 2004] issue and we're still dealing with [fiscal 2003]," the spokesman said, adding that there would be "some moving around" of subcommittee jurisdictions. Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. "has said he doesn't want a 14th subcommittee," the spokesman said, while stressing that jurisdictional changes would be determined by the appropriators themselves.

The GOP source said the latest proposal calls for a select oversight committee comprised of chairmen of committees that claim some jurisdiction over the new Homeland Security Department. Republican leaders were planning to present the new rules package-and homeland security proposals-to the GOP Conference for approval Monday evening.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., confirmed Republicans would consider new rules and address the issue of homeland security oversight, but said the issues would not be settled until GOP lawmakers meet. The full House will take up and vote on the rules package Tuesday when it opens the 108th Congress.

Meanwhile, the Republican Steering Committee continued to interview lawmakers seeking to chair House committees. The 29-member panel first met Sunday to interview returning chairmen and candidates for vacant chairmanships, including the Government Reform, Resources, Agriculture and Armed Services committees.

The panel was planning to meet Monday evening with candidates seeking to head Appropriations subcommittees. Hastert's spokesman said the steering panel would meet Wednesday to vote on the new chairmen.

The House will convene Tuesday at noon for the 108th Congress, beginning with a quorum call by states and nominations for speaker. By a manual roll call, the House is expected to re-elect Hastert for speaker. House Republicans will enjoy a 229-205 majority in the House, which also includes independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

House GOP leaders plan to work this week to take care of several unfinished items from last year before recessing until the week of Jan. 27.

One leadership aide said the House is tentatively scheduled Wednesday to vote on a continuing resolution that funds the federal government until Jan. 31 once the current CR expires Jan. 11. The aide said the House would also take up a placeholder allowing for an omnibus bill that would wrap up the 11 unfinished fiscal 2003 spending bills.

The Senate is scheduled to be in session next week to continue work on 2003 appropriations. The House could vote Wednesday or Thursday on legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits. The House Thursday is expected to take up a cost of living increase for federal judges and a bill reauthorizing FEMA's flood insurance program.

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