Appropriations panel passes supplemental bill, but obstacles remain

On its third go-around, the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday reported out a $29.4 billion fiscal emergency supplemental spending bill by voice vote, sending the package to the House floor for a vote next Wednesday or Thursday.

Although the committee successfully worked its way through two controversial amendments on international family planning and the Crusader artillery system to produce a bill that administration officials pronounced acceptable to the president, it still faces a number of challenges as GOP leaders try to draft a rule for next week's floor debate.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels said Wednesday in an interview with National Journal Group reporters and editors that the administration is "comfortable" with the supplemental and considers it "on a net basis at the president's level."

But conservatives remain upset that it exceeds President Bush's initial request of $27.1 billion. Budget hawks say they plan to press their leadership on the issue as the rule for floor consideration is developed.

House GOP leaders also intend to use the rule to take care of several pieces of unfinished business before the Memorial Day recess: They plan to insert self-executing language in the rule to make good on a promise on textile products made last year to Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C, in exchange for his vote on presidential trade negotiating authority.

Self-executing language is also likely to be added on raising the statutory debt limit. GOP leaders want to get the issue into conference with the Senate without forcing Republicans to cast a politically distasteful vote to raise the government's borrowing limit in the face of Democratic charges that deficits caused by last year's tax cut are the reason the increase is needed.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said appropriators generally oppose self-executing language on rules for their bills, but refused to say how they might vote on the rule in this case.

Young did make clear the committee's position on plans by leaders to attach a so-called deeming resolution to the rule, which would set the limit on fiscal 2003 discretionary appropriations in the absence of a budget resolution conference report.

The House GOP leadership, party conservatives and Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, all want the deeming resolution to set the 2003 total at $759 billion, the level in the House-passed budget resolution. However, Young said that appropriators want $768 billion, or the amount Bush requested in his 2003 budget, but without any strings attached.

Bush's 2003 spending number is $9 billion more than the House budget resolution because that is the cost of his proposal to move accrual accounting of federal employees' retirement costs from the mandatory to the discretionary side of the budget ledger--a proposal that the House Budget Committee did not accept.

Bush also proposed setting aside--and the House budget included--a $10 billion reserve fund to cover unanticipated future expenses in the war on terrorism.

In Wednesday's interview, Daniels said the White House opposes any attempt to take the president's overall spending number without also adopting the policy proposals behind it.

"There's two things about the budget we submitted that could invite people to attempt to heist a little extra money--not a little, a lot," Daniels said. "One is the $10 billion defense contingency suggestion that we made." He said the other is the $9 billion accrual accounting proposal.

Daniels added: "What would be wrong would be to take that $10 billion [for the defense reserve] and spend it for something else. What would be even more unacceptable--or equally unacceptable--is to try to spend twice the benefits money" by including the $9 billion in the discretionary total without making the policy change it is intended to pay for.