Appropriators to take their time on supplemental spending bill

Having waited since December for the administration to ready its second fiscal 2002 wartime supplemental, appropriators are in no mood to rush through consideration of the wide-ranging $27.1 billion emergency funding request the president sent to Capitol Hill last week.

House Appropriations Committee aides said hearings on the supplemental are possible when Congress returns from the spring recess April 9, but that a full committee markup is unlikely before early May.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said the committee will follow regular order and wait for the House to act first.

Under that timeline, the administration is unlikely to get a final package before mid-June, although an Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman said the White House would like a bill ready for the president's signature by the Memorial Day recess.

The administration requested another $14 billion for the Pentagon, $1.6 billion for international programs, $3.3 billion for homeland security and $5.5 billion for New York, all on an emergency basis.

In addition, Bush proposed $1.9 billion in contingent emergency funding for the new Transportation Security Administration and $750 million in contingent emergency aid for dislocated workers.

As large as the package's price tag is, congressional pressure to push it higher has already begun--and from an unlikely quarter: Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jesse Helms, R-N.C., announced his intention last weekend to tack another $500 million onto the supplemental for global HIV/AIDS prevention. House leaders in the fight against the pandemic are likely to at least try to match the efforts of the retiring conservative, a House Democratic source predicted.

Faced with a $1.3 billion shortfall in the Pell grant program that OMB sought to plug by cutting earmarks in the fiscal 2002 Labor-HHS spending bill, House appropriators are instead expected to add the needed funds to the supplemental.

On homeland security, the $3.3 billion Bush requested falls far short of the $7.5 billion that House Appropriations Committee ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., tried to add to the first post-Sept. 11 supplemental last fall, much less the extra $15 billion that Byrd fought to add to the 2002 Defense spending bill.

Nuclear security could be another area for potential increases, particularly in the wake of the report that GAO released Monday detailing security shortfalls at the nation's nuclear power plants.

Said an Obey spokesman, "We're going to smoke the holes out of this bill--find places where they are deficient and try to address them accordingly, either by shifting or by adding [funds]."

The supplemental is also sure to spark vigorous policy debates, particularly concerning Colombia. The administration wants broader authority to provide aid in that country's fight against not only narcotics trafficking, but "terrorist activities and other threats to its national security."

Also raising red flags on Capitol Hill is Bush's request to tap $100 million of the Pentagon's budget to "support foreign nations in furtherance of the global war on terrorism" and $30 million to support "indigenous forces engaged in activities in furtherance of United States national security aims."

The administration wants both pots of money "on such terms and conditions as the secretary of Defense may determine"--language a House Democratic source said "would seem to give them [the Defense Department] blanket authority" to make foreign policy.

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