House heads for vote on fiscal 2002 supplemental appropriations

House GOP leaders, intent late Tuesday on taking the fiscal 2002 supplemental spending bill to the floor Wednesday, were crafting a rule designed to secure the necessary 218 Republican votes to move the process forward.

During a Tuesday afternoon GOP Conference meeting, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., insisted the House would not break for the Memorial Day recess until it had passed the supplemental. Before the conference, Hastert told reporters he hoped to consider the $29.4 billion package Wednesday. "We'll try to get it done [Wednesday] or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday," Hastert said.

Although the rule had not been filed at presstime, leadership sources said key decisions had been made to ensure the support of restive conservatives. At the same time, appropriators did not explicitly say the compromise would lose their support. At the behest of conservatives, House leaders promised the rule would provide an offset to pay for the $250 million added to the bill in committee for aid to Israel and the Palestinians.

Leaders also committed themselves to including a so-called "deeming" resolution to set the fiscal 2003 discretionary spending limit at the $759 billion level set in the House-passed budget resolution, despite pressure from appropriators to go to $768 billion.

And GOP leaders rebuffed entreaties by Democrats-and appropriators-to allow an up-or-down vote on raising the debt limit. Instead, the rule will add language to the bill declaring Congress' commitment to protecting the full faith and credit of the federal government. Such "placeholder" language, according to GOP sources in both chambers, will allow conferees to insert statutory provisions later to raise the debt ceiling in conference with the Senate.

At Tuesday's Rules Committee hearing, Appropriations Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., reiterated his opposition to using the supplemental to carry other items-but stopped short of saying that strategy would prompt a "no" vote from him.

"Does that mean I'll vote against the rule? Not necessarily," Young said. When pressed by committee Democrats if he would support the rule, Young would only say: "I want to see the rule. When I see the rule, I'll let you know."

The rule was not expected to protect from points of order the two amendments adopted in committee concerning the release of $34 million in fiscal 2002 money for United Nations population efforts. Nor was it expected to protect language to divert money from the Highway Trust Fund to cover various transportation-related spending provisions.

House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., had hoped it would include language clarifying the administration's authority to fix a glitch in the Medicare physician payment formula. But that effort evaporated after the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $43 billion over 10 years.

The rule also was expected to address the promise by GOP leaders to Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., for language on textiles that was the basis for his vote for presidential trade negotiating authority last fall.

At presstime, it was unclear whether the rule would include other Medicare changes. One would change the date by which private health plans must inform Medicare if they intend to remain in the program for the next year. It also would delay by one year the "lock-in" rule that limits how often beneficiaries may change plans.

The rule could include changes that would boost Medicare payments for hospitals in some individual members' districts.

Mark Wegner and Julie Rovner contributed to this story.