House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Wednesday confirmed the House plans to pass a continuing resolution next week to keep the federal government funded through the end of October. At presstime, the Senate leadership had not weighed in on its CR strategy.
Speaking to reporters after the weekly House Republican Conference meeting, Blunt said members were not concerned about leaving town tonight because of Hurricane Isabel-even if the Senate stays in session. The House was roundly criticized when it did not convene immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Senate did. Asked whether members objected to closing up shop tonight, Blunt said, "Not a one." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., were meeting at presstime to determine the Senate's schedule for the remainder of the week.
Meanwhile, Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said Wednesday he was likely to offer an amendment to the $19.6 billion fiscal 2004 Interior spending bill, currently on the Senate floor, to boost spending on wildfire suppression. He called the $319 million included in the fiscal 2003 emergency supplemental bill "totally inadequate," and said the Interior Department will have borrowed $850 million by the end of the month.
The fiscal 2003 firefighting money is contained in the fiscal 2004 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which was used as a vehicle for supplemental funding and which conferees are expected to approve Wedensday afternoon. "We need to repay those accounts soon and we need to repay them in full," Burns said. He did not offer a timetable for offering his amendment, but said he was aiming to complete the entire spending bill "by tomorrow [Thursday]." The schedule could be affected if Senate leaders decide on an early hurricane-related exit this week, however.
Another controversial amendment could be offered to further block the administration's competitive sourcing initiatives, which prompted a veto threat from the White House in a Statement of Administration Policy issued Wednesday. Interior Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., was discussing with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., whether to offer the amendment, a Dorgan spokesman said.
Also Wednesday afternoon, conferees are expected to approve the fiscal 2004 Homeland Security spending bill. But Democrats-led by Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd of West Virginia, House Appropriations ranking member David Obey of Wisconsin and Rep. Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota-plan to offer an amendment to boost spending by $1.25 billion. The amendment would include $400 million for aviation security, $375 million for port security, $200 million for first responders, and $125 million to hire more Customs inspectors, among other provisions.
Conferees are also set to convene a closed meeting at 6 pm to reconcile the fiscal 2004 Defense spending bill, while White House officials Wednesday said the $87 billion supplemental spending request for military and rebuilding activities in Iraq and Afghanistan will be sent to the Capitol Wednesday, probably later Wednesday afternoon. Officials said they want Congress to move the package as a single vehicle instead of breaking it up into its constituent pieces.