OMB, appropriators square off over supplemental spending

Relations between the Office of Management and Budget and congressional appropriators, already strained by President Bush's recent veto threat, took a turn for the worse Friday as OMB Director Mitch Daniels accused Congress of trying to pad the bill for the war on terrorism because it is the only way members "feel relevant."

Feisty Senate Appropriations ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, returned fire by dismissively comparing Daniels to the Lucy character in the Peanuts comic strip. An editorial in Friday's Wall Street Journal, which chastised Congress in general and Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.V., in particular for pushing to exceed the $40 billion terrorism supplemental passed in September, quoted Daniels as saying of Congress, "Their motto is, 'Don't just stand there, spend something.' This is the only way they feel relevant."

Of Daniels' statement, Byrd said, "I won't dignify that oafish statement by responding to it." However, he later said of Daniels: "I've always found him to be a nice man. I have high regard for him." Byrd added, "There is a major difference between us, however. I was elected by the people and he was not."

Byrd and House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., want to add up to $20 billion more to the supplemental in additional defense and homeland security spending, and had hoped to do so with GOP support.

Stevens, who has locked horns with Daniels before, responded that he was "really not surprised - he's always had animosity for me, although I don't know about Sen. Byrd." Stevens went on to say that Daniels "has destroyed the relationship we've tried to create between the president and appropriators," but added, in referring to Daniels, "Lucy'll get out of the way ... We'll still be able to kick the football."

A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said Daniels' remarks "show contempt for Congress" and noted that the timing of Daniels' criticism "couldn't be worse" because it comes just as the Bush administration is lobbying House Appropriations Republicans not to vote for more spending at next week's supplemental markup.

The committee is slated to mark up the second $20 billion of the supplemental and attach it to the fiscal 2002 Defense spending bill as a separate title. Before Bush called appropriators and congressional leaders to the White House Tuesday and issued his veto threat against any spending bill that exceeds the $686 billion cap on the 13 regular bills and the $40 billion supplemental, several House GOP appropriators, as well as Stevens, expressed willingness to increase the supplemental.

On Friday, Stevens said that although the $686 billion figure was a deal between appropriators and the White House, there was never an agreement to hold supplemental spending to $40 billion - although Bush informed Congress last month he would not request additional supplemental funds this year.

Stevens added that if the House does add to the supplemental, Republicans have the 41 floor votes needed to sustain a budget point of order against the additional spending - although he did not commit to being one of them.

Stevens said he would decide whether to support more money on the supplemental based on whether it adequately funds his top four priorities: ensuring the safety of the mail and postal workers, combating bioterrorism, inhancing food security, and leasing more refueling tankers for the air war.

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