House, Senate budget differences loom large

With the fiscal 2003 appropriations process facing more questions than answers, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., met for an hour and a half Wednesday evening for a wide- ranging discussion about the appropriations landscape for the remainder of the 107th Congress.

The talks covered the administration's $27 billion fiscal 2002 supplemental spending request, and the question of where to set the 2003 discretionary spending figure in the absence of a budget resolution conference report.

Young declined to go into detail with reporters following the lengthy session, saying only that the he was "trying to inform the speaker about where we are, where we're going and how to get there."

The biggest obstacle Young may face is the lack of a final congressional budget resolution. Even if the Senate manages to pass its version of a 2003 budget, the Senate Budget Committee's Democratic plan is so different from the Republican House-passed budget that few in Congress expect to see a conference report.

Without a conference report to assign the House and Senate Appropriations committees an overall discretionary spending number--which they then divide among their 13 respective subcommittees in what are known as "302(b)" allocations--Young said this year's appropriations process could get messy.

"It would be nearly impossible to reconcile our 302(b)s with them, absent a Senate budget resolution and a conference report," Young said.

Young added that he favors taking the president's FY03 total, $768 billion, and adopting that as the number for both appropriations committees to use.

Young has also said he would like appropriators to be given that amount without any strings attached. In contrast, the House budget resolution sets the total at $759 billion, of which $10 billion would be set aside in a defense reserve fund, and another $1 billion for special education.

Also Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, sent another letter to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge requesting that he reverse his position and testify formally before the committee on the administration's homeland security budget requests.

Byrd and Stevens wrote that although various Cabinet officers also have been invited to testify in the next few weeks, "this is no substitute for having the one official testify whom the president has designated as responsible for coordinating the executive branch's efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks in our nation's homeland."

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