Democrats hope to add $20 billion to fiscal 2003 omnibus bill

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Wednesday proposed adding nearly $20 billion to the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill that could be on the Senate floor as early as Wednesday evening.

Democrats intend to push five amendments to the $385 billion omnibus, including a $5 billion addition to the homeland security spending that will be offered by incoming Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and a total of $7.5 billion to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

Democrats also hope to restore $438 million cut from Amtrak's budget and $300 million sliced from the low-income home heating program. Daschle said Democrats also plan to offer an amendment to provide about $6 billion in emergency relief to drought stricken farmers.

Senate leaders will turn to the 11 remaining fiscal 2003 appropriations bills Wednesday if a Senate organizational resolution can be adopted on the floor Wednesday afternoon. Incoming Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, looking to expedite their consideration, is likely to bypass the full committee markup he had wanted to hold, and instead take the bills directly to the floor, his spokeswoman said.

Stevens would then proceed to a general debate on the appropriations bills, which are to be attached to a placeholder continuing resolution sent by the House last week.

Still unknown is the amount of time that will be given to the debate and how many amendments will be proposed to boost spending or add policy language. Republicans are working on getting a unanimous consent agreement with Democrats to limit debate, holding out hope the bills can be completed by week's end. Daschle said he wants to finish this week, but debate on the 11 appropriations bills would make that complicated.