House set to take up measure to keep government open

The House Wednesday afternoon was expected to take up a continuing resolution to keep the government operating through next Friday, after working out an agreement Tuesday night over the resolution's language and funding levels. But a source said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, had raised last-minute objections.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said the resolution includes language that implies a funding level that would be less than the $759 billion threshold set in the fiscal 2003 House budget resolution. Staff said the figure, if extrapolated over the next fiscal year, would be about $737 billion-or roughly the enacted level for 2002 minus a lot of one-time money -such as aid to New York-passed in the various 2002 supplemental bills.

The CR does not include explicit language requested by the White House to give the administration the power to back out of some funding ordered in the previous year, but the administration would still be able to do that under current law.

"[The resolution] will give them leeway, but not any more than they already have," Young said.

Once the House dispenses with the CR, the Senate will follow suit, likely Thursday.

Appropriators still plan to pass another short-term CR lasting through Oct. 11, sometime next week. But after that, all bets are off. Young, speaking to reporters, reiterated his opposition to a long-term CR lasting until next March.

"We don't think that's workable," he said, contending that next March the Appropriations Committee will have its hands too full with negotiations over the 2004 budget resolution as well as preliminary work on 2004 appropriations bills to spend time finishing up 2003 spending bills.

"We've got to clear up '03 issues before we get entangled in '04 issues," said Young, who wants Congress to work this December to complete outstanding budget issues.

But House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., so far seems unmoved by Young's suggestion. "I'll work with [Young]," Hastert said, but added, "If you're here in December, I'm afraid we're here until Christmas."

If leaders decide to move forward with the long-term CR idea, some are predicting a huge fight over that resolution's funding levels and possible legislative add-ons.

The White House has said a long-term CR needs to be "clean" and not loaded up with extra spending. But appropriators say certain agencies, such as those recently created to deal with homeland security, are not going to be able to last through March under 2002 funding specifications because there is not enough cash. Moreover, there is expected to be pressure from lawmakers to add emergency funds to the bill, such as firefighting and drought aid, as well as Medicare givebacks.