Debate on supplemental spending to open
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., may see his current leadership honeymoon come to an abrupt end this week when he confronts the likely first test of his speakership: how to handle the Clinton administration's fiscal 1999 supplemental appropriations request, which could cost around $2.8 billion.
Between conservative Republicans' lingering bruised feelings from last fall's massive omnibus spending bill and the House GOP Conference's general desire to require offsets for all but the most narrowly defined emergency requests, Hastert will have his hands full trying to steer this year's supplemental to enactment without significant conservative defections.
The task was too much for former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.-whose miscues handling the fiscal 1997 supplemental led directly to conservative hardliners' attempt to oust him, and sowed the seeds of mistrust on the right that helped cost him his speakership.
A Hastert spokesman-mincing no words-acknowledged that the forthcoming FY99 supplemental "is going to be a pain in the ass." He said the leadership has "already heard the grumblings" from both conservative outside groups and members that the White House will load up the bill with spending Republicans do not consider true emergencies-and that the leadership will cave. To prevent that, the spokesman said, "We've just got to make sure every dollar is worth spending."
House Majority Leader Armey's office was equally clear about the goal, with an Armey spokesman pledging his boss will "be the watchdog to make sure the supplemental doesn't get out of control. We aren't going to let a slim majority be an excuse to pass a bloated bill."
But some early indications are that Clinton's supplemental request, due to arrive on Capitol Hill along with his FY2000 budget proposal next Monday, may not pose a serious problem.
According to informed sources, preliminary estimates show the supplemental request will total $2.8 billion, with $1.9 billion allocated for implementation of the so-called Wye River agreement on Middle East peace-and no more than $900 million earmarked for disaster relief for victims of Hurricanes Mitch and Georges. All amounts would cover spending in FY99, FY2000 and FY2001.
Sources said the administration's request will not include offsets for the $900 million in hurricane relief, but will propose offsets out of the defense budget to pay for the Wye River agreement.
Although one GOP leadership source said Republicans could accept a disaster/Wye River supplemental-noting strong support for Israel within the GOP-another source said Republican leaders may seek to delay the Wye River money rather than remove it from the defense budget.
An aide to the House Appropriations Committee noted today that committee members have traditionally agreed not to offset supplemental requests for "true emergencies"-which the aide defined as "one time, unforeseen, unanticipated needs."
Commenting on the potential defense offsets for the Wye River funding, the aide also said the Republican Conference "has a majority of members who want more money for defense," and who doubt the administration's $12 billion FY2000 defense request is all new money.
But the aide reserved judgment on the forthcoming supplemental, saying, "First we have to see what we're dealing with."
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