Short-term anti-shutdown measure in the works

Efforts to write a short-term continuing resolution to provide funding keep federal agencies open after the beginning of fiscal 2003 continued Monday.

Congress has made little progress on 2003 appropriations bills, which are necessary to keep agencies operating.

Sources on Capitol Hill said Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal that would extend current-year funding to Oct. 4 and grant the White House some flexibility to eliminate funding it deemed unnecessary.

House appropriators also reached an agreement with Democrats to move a CR straight to the floor and were planning late Tuesday to forge a unanimous consent agreement so a resolution could move through the House Wednesday.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., laid the blame Tuesday for the stalled appropriations process squarely on the shoulders of the House Republican leadership and the White House and said a long-term continuing resolution could prove disastrous to the country. That approach could jeopardize education, Amtrak, veterans' health care and other government-sponsored programs, Byrd charged in remarks that are part of a debate that has come to define the gridlocked 107th Congress.

However, Byrd's partner on the Appropriations Committee, ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said a long-term CR that lasts until March is probably the most "realistic" solution.

Stevens said he had never seen a post-election session accomplish anything that could not be accomplished before the election. "It's hard to be a leader in a lame duck," said Stevens.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., advocated a March end-date for a long-term CR, despite some appropriators' complaints that March might not be the best start-date because of a crowded schedule. It will include, aside from fiscal 2003 bills, a possible supplemental to deal with military action in Iraq, as well as hearings on fiscal 2004 bills.

Lott said the Senate no longer would have to deal with legislation to create a Homeland Security Department or authorization for a war in Iraq, both of which have held up appropriations bills in the Senate.