Pressure mounts on Congress to finish fiscal 2003 bills

House Appropriations Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said Thursday it is "imperative" to finish work on the fiscal 2003 spending bills in January, but that it would not be easy getting Congress to live within the $750.5 billion budget target advanced by the Bush administration.

"Probably no one is going to be happy with the bills that we produce," said Young. But with the president's State of the Union address set for Jan. 28 along with a likely winter fiscal 2003 supplemental for added defense costs and the start in February of the fiscal 2004 appropriations process, Young said Congress must settle spending disagreements quickly.

Young, in an afternoon news conference, did not release new allocations for the 11 unfinished spending bills, but said he and incoming Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have worked out a basic agreement and preconferenced many items to speed up the consideration of fiscal 2003 bills once Congress returns.

The plan, according to Young, is that the House would pass two continuing resolutions the first week of January. One would be another CR to keep the government running through Jan. 31 and the other would be a placeholder to serve as a vehicle for an omnibus package of fiscal 2003 spending bills.

The Senate is expected to amend that placeholder resolution with the contents of the 11 unfinished bills, so that it can be conferenced with the House and signed into law by President Bush.

Young also said Thursday that he expects to have new subcommittee chairmen lined up by the week the House returns, and he said he would speak Thursday afternoon with Homeland Security Secretary-designate Tom Ridge about the possibility of having to reorganize the various appropriations subcommittees in the future to deal with the new Homeland Security Department.