Despite an unscheduled visit by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.,negotiations over supplemental anti-terrorism spending remained stalled Thursday, amid expressions of frustration about the lack of progress.
Byrd said he had been unable to reach Young by phone, so he dropped by Young's office Thursday afternoon, but was told Young was in a meeting and unavailable to see him. When he returned later, Byrd said, Young had already left for Florida, so he met with the committee's majority staff director instead.
Earlier Thursday, the normally easygoing Young said he had made several offers to Byrd about how to divide the $20 billion supplemental among defense, New York recovery and homeland security.
But Young said he encountered resistance that he compared to a "brick wall." Young added, "Maybe we'll have a little break when we come back after the weekend."
Staff-to-staff relations have been similarly strained, as House Appropriations Committee aides have failed to return calls from their Senate counterparts. House staffers observed that Byrd's aides are no more flexible than the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman.
The communications breakdown is what ultimately prompted Byrd to seek out Young himself.
Byrd later issued a statement that he is "ready to sit down with my House counterparts at any time."
Said Byrd: "We met for the first time on Wednesday, and I had hoped to build on that progress [Thursday]. Unfortunately, the House was unable to meet early this afternoon, and further action will be put off until next week. I hope that we can continue discussions on Monday."
Byrd continued: "There will have to be give-and-take on all sides, and to do that we need to meet face-to-face. I remain hopeful that we can resolve our differences quickly.... We stand ready to negotiate."
Earlier Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., defended the Senate's version of the supplemental, which provided significantly more for homeland security than the House had, at the expense of extra dollars for the Pentagon.
"I don't think there is a lot of give here," Daschle told reporters. "But clearly, we're prepared to work with our colleagues on the other side and see if there's a way we can address this.... But we've got to resolve this issue, and if they show give, we'll show some give."
The Senate allotted more than $8 billion out of the $20 billion for homeland defense, compared to the House's $5.5 billion. In contrast, the House had $7.3 billion for the Pentagon, while the Senate allotted $2 billion.
Another source of tension has been the Office of Management and Budget's insistence that appropriations conferees give the president the entire $7.3 billion he requested for defense.
Appropriations sources expect the final defense number to be $3.5-4 billion--partly because House GOP leaders have indicated their members would not settle for less. But before that number is set, it must win White House approval.
Meanwhile, Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the principal negotiators on the underlying fiscal 2002 Defense bill hope to meet today to convene a formal conference committee Monday.
Conferees are not expected to file the conference report until Thursday or until the supplemental title is ready, whichever comes first.