Budget issues take back seat to defense debate on Capitol Hill

Talk of a long-term continuing resolution or any appropriations endgame strategy has taken a distinct back seat to discussions over the Iraq resolution and the homeland security bill, sources said Tuesday.

But negotiations are likely to restart soon, possibly by week's end, as leaders begin to try to devise some way to get Congress out of town.

Meanwhile, in a letter Tuesday to top appropriators and congressional leaders, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels said language in the short-term continuing resolution signed Monday by President Bush should serve as the "model" for any future CRs.

Daniels also said the annualized cost of the CR, based on preliminary estimates, would remain below the president's request and the House-passed budget resolution.

"We are very pleased that this continuing resolution follows historical precedent and is a 'clean' CR-one that continues existing programs at their current rate, does not create any new programs, contains no increases in spending and does not contain extraneous provisions," Daniels wrote.

In addition, Daniels said the White House would reduce one-time, nonrecurring costs from the calculation of the rate of the CR-to the tune of about $16 billion on an annual basis.

Last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, tried to include language in the CR that would specifically exclude such one-time costs, but appropriators rejected the idea, saying the administration had that authority under law anyway, and any new language would be redundant.

The fight almost derailed the CR last week, and it was unclear Tuesday whether Nussle would try again to change language in a second short-term CR, extending appropriations through Oct. 11, expected to pass by week's end, sources said.

A House Republican aide said Nussle's concerns are "ultimately what we end up with in a long-term CR" and to ensure that funding levels remain below the administration's request and the House-passed budget resolution.