House to take up resolution to avoid government shutdown

With fiscal 2003 appropriations bills tied in knots and no immediate solution in sight, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Tuesday acknowledged the House would take up some type of continuing resolution next week to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year.

But Armey said leaders had not yet decided the length of a CR or what spending level the resolution would contain. Armey said his "best guess" would be a short-term resolution of a week or two "at most." He also said he would like to see the resolution written "close to last year's initial appropriations level."

But last year's initial appropriations level is much smaller than what was actually enacted, given the numerous supplemental bills passed in wake of Sept. 11. Appropriators have said they traditionally use final spending levels in determining CRs, but GOP conservatives have balked at that idea, saying the final levels contain a lot of one-time spending-such as aid to New York-that should not be used in calculating a CR funding level.

Doing so, conservatives maintain, could end up being as bad as conceding to the Senate's higher spending figures for fiscal 2003, although appropriators complain that "picking and choosing" which programs should get a higher spending total in a CR will be problematic at best.

Armey also blamed the Senate again for the appropriations mess, even though House Republican moderates are demanding higher spending for education, health and other programs and refusing to support appropriations bills unless more money is pumped into the process.

Armey pointed out that the Senate has refused to pass a budget resolution, and instead, has allowed "fiscally irresponsible" and "free-spending" appropriators to determine spending totals for 2003 that are more than $10 billion higher than what the House has proposed.

That, he said, has caused the problems within the GOP Conference-as moderates refuse to take votes on spending bills that are lower than the Senate's corresponding version, knowing that Democrats will blame them for cutting popular programs. He said Republicans in general are suffering from "responsibility exhaustion" because they continue to take tough stances on budgetary restraint, and moderates are "tired of being abused" in the budgetary tug of war.

As Armey was making his comments, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., Tuesday blasted not the House, but the administration, for the continuing impasse over appropriations bills.

"While it would be easy to point the finger at the House of Representatives, the blame truly belongs down the avenue," Byrd said in a speech on the Senate floor. The White House, he said, "remains wedded to an arbitrary budget figure that undercuts the Congress's ability to complete its work in a responsible fashion."

Byrd said every senator on the Appropriations Committee recognizes that the Senate bills, which total $768 billion not counting emergencies or added fiscal 2002 money, are what it will take to get a budget done this year.

"These are not boondoggle bills," Byrd said. "These are responsible pieces of legislation."