Lawmaker to push for long-term CR if omnibus stalls

House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said Thursday he would push for a long-term continuing resolution to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal 2003 if appropriators cannot complete negotiations on the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill by the time Congress exits Feb. 14 for Presidents' Day recess.

"It's very disappointing that the game has gone on so long," Nussle said. "It's unconscionable to go beyond the Presidents' Day recess."

Nussle's pronouncement did not sit well with appropriators. "We'll let him write the CR if he lets us write a budget resolution," said a spokesman for the Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers in both chambers currently are mulling over the details of the omnibus legislation, which cleared the Senate just last week. But progress has been slow on some of the bigger-picture issues raised by the bill, which includes the contents of the 11 unfinished, fiscal 2003 appropriations bills. Sticking points include how to reduce the 2.9 percent across-the-board cut included in the legislation to fund $11.4 billion in new spending.

Given the bill's complexities, some are predicting the omnibus legislation will be completed by Presidents' Day recess at the earliest, and might even slip past that date. But Nussle said if the omnibus could not be done in roughly two weeks-without a host of gimmicks like the across-the-board cut to mask the bill's cost-then it should be "everybody out of the pool," because Congress needs to refocus on passing an fiscal 2004 budget resolution.

"I'm not interested in writing a CR, I have to write a budget," said Nussle, noting he still hoped an omnibus compromise would emerge.

Meanwhile, Nussle said he plans to mark up his fiscal 2004 budget resolution sometime in the first two weeks of March, with floor consideration following soon afterward.

Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., expressed similar sentiments Thursday. He said he plans to hold a markup by mid-March on the Senate resolution. Both chairmen vowed to complete a budget resolution by the statutory deadline of April 15.

Speaking Thursday afternoon to reporters, Nussle offered few specifics about what his budget resolution would contain, saying only that it must "grow the economy" and restrain spending.

Nussle said the "single most important factor" in erasing future budget deficits projected Tuesday by CBO was correcting the economy. He also said nondefense discretionary spending items need to be restrained-although he declined to say which programs. Congress needs to figure out what it has to get done this year and what can be delayed until the fiscal situation improves, he said.

"You've got to buy the groceries, but you don't have to remodel the kitchen," said Nussle.

NEXT STORY: OPM upgrades online training site