White House willing to accept further delays in spending bills

Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels said Tuesday that while the White House would like to see Congress finish the remaining appropriations bills before the end of the year, it would not try to block efforts to defer passage of the bills until early next year.

"We prefer the appropriations bills to pass, but if that's not possible between now and the end of the year, then hopefully, quickly thereafter," said Daniels, after leaving a meeting about the upcoming fiscal 2004 budget with GOP leaders and House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa.

Daniels also said he did not expect any new legislative "fixes" or any new money to be added to the current language of the continuing resolution.

If Congress can complete homeland security legislation this week, the 11 unfinished fiscal 2003 appropriations bills are the only business Congress must take up before the end of the session.

While appropriators say they would like to complete the bills, House staffers said Congress would likely approve a fourth continuing resolution to fund the government when the current CR expires Nov. 22. The most likely dates appear to be either Jan. 11 or Jan. 23, at which time Congress would likely pass a multi-bill omnibus package to finish up fiscal 2003 either by the time the president submits his fiscal 2004 budget in early February or by the time both chambers get around to moving a fiscal 2004 budget resolution in March.

Republicans signaled Tuesday they wanted a short lame-duck session that includes final action on legislation to establish the new Homeland Security Department in addition to a continuing resolution that funds the government into January.

Despite optimism Congress could wrap up the 107th Congress quickly, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said GOP leaders need to discuss how they proceed. "We'll see what happens. Nothing has been decided," Hastert's spokesman said.

Hastert and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., met with President Bush at the White House Tuesday in the first of a series of meetings Bush has planned to move his agenda in the lame duck. Bush Tuesday afternoon also planned to meet with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's board of directors to talk about economic growth and the legislative agenda, before sitting down with newly seated Sen. Dean Barkley, I-Minn., for what the White House describes as an informal meeting, but which also is certain to include a discussion of the homeland security bill. The president late Tuesday afternoon will also hold a reception for newly elected lawmakers.

House GOP leadership sources said they are optimistic they can reach a deal on homeland security legislation with the Senate, with a final vote possible before the week's end. "Members are talking. The Senate has expressed a willingness," one leadership aide said. "It's possible. You could see a vote by the end of the week."

Besides homeland security, the Senate also could take up port security legislation. If the House needs to reconvene again after this week, it would not be at least until December. Before the elections, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said the House would not be in session next week, because of scheduled congressional delegation trips, or the following week, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. One leadership aide noted conference reports could become candidates for House action, with bankruptcy, terrorism insurance and port security legislation among the possibilities.