House, Senate leaders seek to break logjam on war spending bill

With appropriators unable to resolve their differences over what the House charges are extraneous "pork barrel" provisions in the Senate version of the fiscal 2003 war supplemental appropriations bill, the issue appears to have been kicked up to the leadership level.

Following a meeting Thursday of Senate committee chairmen, Agriculture Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who also chairs the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., planned to sit down with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to break the impasse.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said DeLay and Hastert met Thursday today and "determined they are not going to schedule a supplemental for the floor as long as it contains the Senate pork. We will stay this weekend if we have to. We're officially dug in ... You can't leave D.C. for two weeks without funding the war."

The House leadership position has the backing of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and the full Republican Conference. Pointing out that he made good on his pledge to send the president a clean supplemental, turning down numerous member requests for projects, Young said: "My bill is almost perfect. There is no conference report." Nor had a conference committee been scheduled as of Thursday afternoon.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., registered his frustration today too, telling reporters: "If it takes removing them [the extraneous provisions] to get this done, then remove them. We need to get this done."

A Frist spokesman said Frist is committed to passing the conference report before the spring recess begins at the end of the week. "The president asked us to get it done by the recess, and that's what we plan to do," the spokesman said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, acknowledged that Thursday was the deadline appropriators had to meet. After the chairmen's meeting, he told reporters, "I believe we'll work it out this afternoon. It has to come to a close this afternoon" so a conference committee can be convened and the House can file a conference report in time for a Friday vote.

But Stevens also said he told his colleagues he and Young "have no agreement to meet" to wrap up the supplemental. Stevens confirmed the extra Senate provisions remain in dispute, and they were the final obstacles to an agreement.

"The discussions went on all last night, and they may go on all night tonight as well," he said.