Defense spending bill could hit Senate floor Friday

The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday approved its version of the $369.2 billion fiscal 2004 Pentagon spending measure with no debate, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, plans to bring the bill up for full committee consideration Wednesday. It could be on the floor as early as Friday, pending a meeting Wednesday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to plan the schedule for appropriations bills to reach the floor.

The Senate could also take up a $9 billion Military Construction spending bill this week. Stevens said he wants to attach the administration's $1.9 billion fiscal 2003 supplemental spending request on to one of the 2004 spending bills, but that he is waiting for the House to act first.

"We will act if they don't, but I think it's better to start over there," he said. Stevens did not say what the potential vehicle would be.

The supplemental request, which arrived late Monday, would provide funding for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief activities, wildfire suppression and NASA's space shuttle Columbia recovery operation.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., has not yet decided on a vehicle in that chamber, a spokesman said. House conservatives said they need the 2003 funds to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the 2004 budget, but one aide said they would have to see which vehicle the funds are attached to before deciding whether to oppose the measure.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Tuesday, "We're shifting the appropriations process into high gear," aiming to complete the Defense spending bill, on the floor Tuesday, as well as the $2.7 billion legislative branch appropriations measure Wednesday, and the $138 billion Labor-HHS spending bill by the end of the week. The Defense bill was expected to pass on a broad bipartisan vote.

The Labor-HHS appropriations bill, typically a partisan battle, is expected to be no different this year and will likely hinge on the votes of House GOP moderates. An aide said moderates would meet with Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, Wednesday to discuss the measure, as well as possible Democratic amendments.

One such amendment, which DeLay cited, would roll back Labor Department regulations that force unions to disclose more information about how they spend member dues. DeLay said he would muster opposition to the amendment. However, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats may offer just a single amendment to the Labor-HHS spending bill, in order to focus the debate on the tradeoff between tax cuts and service reductions.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy Tuesday generally supportive of the House defense appropriations bill, but criticized appropriators for rescinding $2 billion from the 2003 Iraq supplemental to meet 2004 discretionary spending caps. The statement said the rescission would hinder the administration's flexibility to address security and reconstruction needs in Iraq.

The White House is also concerned about a $3 billion shift from operations and maintenance to procurement and research and development, as well as the lack of funding for the Virginia-class submarine and other reductions.

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