House appropriators ready spending bills for Senate negotiations

With a conference with the Senate around the corner, House appropriators late last week introduced versions of the two spending bills never formally approved by the full House Appropriations Committee-the fiscal 2003 Labor-HHS and Commerce-Justice-State measures.

While the allocations for the bills are still at last year's levels and do not reflect the small but tangible increases both bills are likely to get under the revised totals for fiscal 2003 written by incoming Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, appropriators decided to indicate House prerogatives for the upcoming negotiations with the Senate on the omnibus appropriations bill.

Among the notable portions of the $130.9 billion Labor-HHS spending bill, the National Institutes of Health would receive about $26.5 billion, about $3.4 billion above fiscal 2002-but still $688.7 million short of the president's request, which would have fulfilled promises to double the funding for the agency.

Special education programs also took a hit under the bill, coming in at $9.1 billion, or $500 million below the request.

Meanwhile, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program would receive $1.7 billion, or $300 million above the requested amount, and labor programs would receive $14.4 billion, about a $260 million increase over the president's request.

As for the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, many programs in the measure saw increases over last year, but with homeland security items getting top billing, other priorities did not receive the increases some lawmakers say are needed. Total funding for the bill is about $41.1 billion, which is $700 million below the request.

While state and local law enforcement grants received $1 billion above the request for a total of $4.3 billion, the president's First Responders Initiative, when combined with what is funded under the fiscal 2003 VA-HUD spending bill, still falls about $2 billion short of the request, according to Democrats.

Meanwhile, the State Department comes in at $7.88 billion, some $215 million below the request, while the federal judiciary also felt the pinch, coming in at $4.7 billion, which is still $270 million below the request.