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Leaders eye Wednesday markup for fiscal 2003 spending bills

If Senate leaders are able to reach an agreement today on an organizational resolution, it is possible that the fiscal 2003 appropriations bills could go to a markup Wednesday, with floor action to follow quickly after that.

It is also possible, given the number of Democratic amendments awaiting the various appropriations bills, that in the interest of time, the bills could skip the markup and head straight to the floor. So far, incoming Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has made no decision on how to proceed, according to his spokeswoman.

Republican leaders and Stevens also have not made any decision on whether they would be willing to accept any of the Democratic amendments in order to expedite consideration of the bills and to avoid having to take difficult floor votes on education and health spending, drought aid or any other issues likely to come up this week.

Theoretically, Republicans could accept amendments that add money to the bills but then drop those amendments in conference if the Bush administration, as is expected, remains unwilling to go along with anything that would break the $750.5 billion fiscal 2003 threshold.

But a Republican leadership aide said lawmakers were not yet ready to start accepting such amendments because of the potential impact it could have on the House-Senate conference's efforts to stay within Bush's budget figures.

"We're worried about making the House uncomfortable," the aide said. Also, the aide warned that Democrats should be prepared to offer spending offsets if they want amendments to be successful, both on the floor and in final negotiations on the omnibus spending package. "If people want to show up at the dance, they better have offsets," said the aide.

In order to make the bills comply with the budget guidelines set by the administration, Stevens had to cut more than $10 billion from the bills as written by outgoing Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., last year. Among the cuts to programs compared to the previous bills, according to an appropriations aide: $1.5 billion for education, $760 million for Amtrak, $970 million for various homeland security items, $350 million for election measures, $500 million for state and local law enforcement grants and $100 million for water projects.