House panel puts its stamp on homeland, military construction bills

After adopting revised subcommittee spending allocations for fiscal 2003 and 2004, the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday completed its first full committee markup of the 2004 funding cycle, approving by voice vote the $29.4 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill and the $9.2 billion Military Construction spending bill.

The committee voted 33-25 to reject an amendment by Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., to divert $1 billion from the tax cut that millionaires would receive this year to the Homeland Security spending bill. The committee later rejected 34-24 a similar Obey amendment on the Military Construction spending bill.

Before Obey's first amendment, the committee approved by voice vote an amendment by Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., to require the General Accounting Office and the National Academy of Sciences to study the feasibility and ramifications of the Transportation Security Administration's Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System before it can be funded.

The underlying bill contains $9 billion for border protection and related activities, $4.4 billion for first responders, $100 million for port security grants-a figure Obey has widely criticized as inadequate-and $890 million for the "Bioshield" initiative.

Both Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Sabo noted the problems they encountered trying to work with the department. Said Sabo: "This subcommittee received very little support from the new department in putting together this bill. I think the verdict is still out on the Department of Homeland Security."

Rogers, who previously chaired the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, aimed his most pointed remarks at the troubled Transportation Security Administration. Noting that the bill retains the current 45,000-member cap on the airport screener workforce, Rogers said, "There are still too many screeners, too many loose ends and too many idle resources at TSA."

The report accompanying the bill criticizes the agency for low-balling several accounts, including procurement and installation of explosive detection devices, and slams its proposal to use federal air marshal appropriations to fund other TSA shortfalls.

Before taking up the bill, the committee approved new 2003 subcommittee allocations, which reflect the recent deal among the House, Senate and administration to give appropriators another $5.2 billion in 2004 funds. In his weekly news conference today, House Majority Whip Blunt told reporters he expected the deal to hold through 2004.

The revised 2004 allocations move $10 million in budget authority from the Labor-HHS spending bill to the District of Columbia spending bill, an amount Obey said would be used to finance a school voucher program. The new allocations also take $30 million in outlays from Agriculture, $272 million in outlays from Homeland Security and $5 million in outlays from Labor-HHS, while adding $252 million to Defense, $5 million to the District of Columbia and $50 million to VA-HUD.