Senate Dems oppose long-term measure to keep government open

Leading Senate Democratic appropriators Tuesday expressed their opposition to a long-term continuing resolution espoused by many GOP leaders in both chambers.

But they also said they would be opposed to a potentially fruitless and lengthy lame-duck session, and several noted that instead of writing a CR that would extend to March, Congress would be wiser to write one that lasts until January or even February-to give appropriators a few more weeks to finish the fiscal 2003 spending bills before the onslaught of 2004 spending bills begins next year.

Senate VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said extending 2003 appropriations measures until March would pose a "triple threat." Not only would lawmakers still be haggling over the spending differences that have bogged down appropriators this year, they would also be dealing with a likely 2003 Defense supplemental bill to help fund military action in Iraq and gearing up for the 2004 appropriations process with a full slate of oversight hearings.

"Beware the ides of March," quipped Mikulski. If necessary, "we should do a CR into early January," she said.

Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., agreed that a "giant CR" is not the way to go, but that a "lame duck is just what it sounds like."

Dorgan acknowledged that as far as end-game strategy goes, "we're not going to be driving this ship alone" and that Senate and House leaders will have to work out some mutually beneficial agreement. But he also said a CR that lasted until January or February was probably the best solution at this point.

"We could get back [then] and do the work," he said.

Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is likely to see the 2003 Military Construction spending bill enacted before a possible adjournment in October, said she would prefer a lame-duck session to pushing everything over until next year. "These bills are going to take up a lot of time," said Feinstein.

Meanwhile, on the House side of the Capitol, despite having little chance of seeing their bills move to the floor before adjournment, appropriators now plan on taking both the 2003 District of Columbia and Transportation spending bills to a full committee markup Thursday.

President Bush Tuesday demanded that Congress send him a 2003 Defense appropriations bill before leaving to campaign this fall.

The Senate and the House must "get their differences reconciled and get a Defense bill to my desk before they go home," Bush told reporters following a Cabinet meeting. Bush also demanded fiscal restraint on Capitol Hill, suggesting too much spending could harm the economy.