Senate appropriators get extra $1 billion

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will spread $900 million to $1.1 billion in additional appropriations among his subcommittees this week because of budget scoring changes that took effect once President Clinton signed the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

Stevens plans to not only give the transportation subcommittee more money, but may spread some of the money around to other subcommittees for uses other than transportation.

A Stevens aide Monday confirmed the chairman is working on reallocating funding levels to the appropriations subcommittees, but does not yet have a deadline by which he plans to announce the changes.

Appropriators won the extra money when the ISTEA reauthorization bill established budget firewalls for highway and transit spending, which, in turn, reduced non-defense discretionary appropriations for those programs. And by using the OMB scoring, instead of the CBO scoring, $900 million to $1.1 billion was left for other appropriations, aides said.

The new levels of appropriations subcommittee funding likely will have to be approved by the full Appropriations Committee before subcommittees can act on their allocations, aides said.

Among the interests closely watching the allocation of the new money are Senate supporters of Amtrak. Aides said Amtrak likely would be the first large item cut if Stevens does not send enough of the extra money to the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

And Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a longtime foe of Amtrak, may do just that. Sources said Shelby plans to cut the expected funding for Amtrak from $600 million per year to $300 million.

And speculation circulated Monday that Shelby, if he does not get enough extra money from Stevens, may even zero out Amtrak's appropriation.

Senate Finance Chairman William Roth, R-Del., and a bipartisan group of 51 other senators have signed a "Dear Colleague" calling on Shelby to fully fund Amtrak's annual appropriation.

But for now, Senators fighting for Amtrak plan to focus their attention on Stevens. Aides said the size of the extra allocation to the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee will largely determine what Shelby does for Amtrak.

Amtrak, the Coast Guard and the FAA are the largest portions of the transportation appropriations bill not protected by the highway and transit budget firewalls.

Meanwhile, although saying he is "for the maximum amount of tax cuts we can get," Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Monday warned it will be difficult to get any sizable cuts through the Senate.

Nearly half of the $100 billion tax cut in the House bill is from discretionary spending, and will therefore face the nearly impossible task of garnering 60 votes in the Senate, he said.

And of the remaining $55 billion from mandatory spending, $14 billion has already been spent on the highway bill and veterans' benefits, leaving about $40 billion. "I believe that very little of the $40 billion that remains can be done," Domenici said.

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