Because of the House's truncated week with work expected to wrap up Tuesday night, a formal conference on the fiscal 2004 supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan is not likely to occur until next week. But House Appropriations Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said appropriators Monday started comparing the versions passed out of the two chambers last week.
"We're already hard at work to get those conference notes ready to go," Young said. "The real work began today [Monday] when we began to compare the House bill and the Senate bill item by item."
The Senate appointed conferees Friday and the House is expected to follow suit Tuesday.
The major difference between the two bills is a Senate-backed loan provision, which Young vowed to remove.
"The president will prevail on this issue of grants versus loans, and it is my intention to make that happen," Young said.
There is likely to a be a vote in the conference committee on the matter, on which supporters of the House position-maintaining direct grants-will outnumber those backing loans.
Young had hoped to complete the supplemental before Thursday, which is the beginning of an international donors' conference in Madrid, Spain. He said Congress has already made clear its commitment to reconstruction aid in Iraq, noting the Senate has approved $10 billion in direct reconstruction aid.
Asked to predict when the supplemental conference might wrap up, Young, replied, "If I gave you a date right now, I'd be guessing."
Other differences to be resolved include Senate provisions to boost benefits for National Guard and other reservists and a $1.3 billion increase in veterans' health care, among other differences. In a Statement of Administration Policy, OMB said it would oppose such changes.
Both bills would cut almost $2 billion from Iraq reconstruction aid, with the Senate bill cutting an additional $200 million from the administration's $900 million request for purchases of refined oil products for Iraq.
The House Tuesday will turn its focus to the regular fiscal 2004 appropriations process by taking up a continuing resolution that would fund the government a week beyond the current CR, which expires Oct. 31.
It would also include "placeholder" language designed to prompt the Senate to work on an "omnibus" package that includes the six fiscal 2004 spending measures it has not approved.
"We will pass a CR that takes us to Nov. 7, and that will include the six bills that we have passed that they [the Senate] haven't passed," Young said.
Because the CR and omnibus are unlikely to make it out of a conference-and to the White House-by Oct. 31, the House will likely need to pass a straight CR next week.
Even though the House will be in recess the rest of the week, Young said work would continue on other pending fiscal 2004 appropriations conferences.
"We're telling all of our conferees to be on call-when we need you, we need you," he said.