House leaders prepare new continuing resolutions

House GOP leaders are readying at least two more continuing resolutions -- the first to fund government agencies not covered by already enacted fiscal 2004 spending bills through the middle of next week, and the second to last through January and possibly into February, lawmakers and aides said Wednesday.

The short-term continuing resolution (CR) could be considered Thursday, but whether the second option is employed will be dictated by the pace of progress on the Medicare, energy and omnibus fiscal 2004 appropriations bills this week and over the weekend. House Majority Tom Leader DeLay, R-Texas, said two such CRs are currently being worked out, but said no dates had been finalized.

"If the Senate can't get its work done we'll do a long-term CR," said a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he was not yet ready to sign off on the plan, however. "The leader and speaker have discussed it, but he's focused on getting everything done by Thanksgiving," the Frist spokesman said.

House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said he sees no need for a long-term CR. "If we're going to go ahead and finish the unfinished appropriations business of Congress, we can complete it by Saturday," he said.

Appropriations talks are continuing while debates on Medicare and energy play out in hopes of completing all three by early next week. Appropriators have scheduled a conference meeting on the fiscal 2004 omnibus package at 5 p.m., although lingering differences remain between the White House and lawmakers over key funding and policy disputes.

That measure contains the fiscal 2004 Agriculture, VA-HUD, Commerce-Justice-State, District of Columbia and Labor-HHS spending bills. The administration and House GOP leaders are battling Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., over an additional $1.2 billion in education funds he is seeking, as well as proposed Labor Department changes on overtime rules that Specter wants to delay. The two issues are among the biggest sticking points to a deal. Specter met with Frist and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, earlier today to discuss the education issue and said he had worked out with Stevens a way to pay for the funds.

An analysis by appropriators found an estimated $4 billion in savings by rescinding unspent funds from supplemental appropriations bills from Sept. 11, 2001, up until, but not including, the recent $87.5 billion fiscal 2004 Iraq supplemental package. Official CBO scoring of the plan is expected this week. However, leadership aides argued there is less than $1 billion available through that method, and are instead pushing across-the-board cuts.

Appropriators want to include the education funds as well as $2.6 billion in additional funds for election overhaul and veterans' health care. They also face pressure to include up to $350 million for the Bush administration's Millennium Challenge Account. The Senate Tuesday night cleared a fiscal 2004 Energy and Water bill for the president's signature, and appropriators want to complete fiscal 2004 Transportation-Treasury and Foreign Operations bills this week. But they still face concerns from the Bush administration over government outsourcing, and from conservatives over international family planning provisions.

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