Cheney signals White House support for spending plan

Vice President Dick Cheney left a one-hour meeting Wednesday with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, saying that while the group must still hammer out some details, the administration is on board with appropriators' plan to free up as much as $5.2 billion for the fiscal 2004 appropriations process.

"We're flexible, and we're working with our colleagues up here on the Hill," Cheney said. "I'm confident we'll get the job done."

Today's meeting came on the heels of a Tuesday session among GOP leaders, appropriators and President Bush at the White House at which the group reached an understanding on finding more money for 2004 appropriations bills, although the administration still had concerns about the defense element of the plan. That prompted today's meeting among Cheney, Young and Stevens.

A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said the only issue left to work out is whether the $3 billion slated to be moved into the regular 2003 defense accounts should come out of the supplemental or the 2004 defense allocation. The president favors the latter course, the spokesman said.

They also intend to "re-credit" back into FY03 $2.2 billion in domestic appropriations-primarily education funding-that had been advanced into 2004 under the 2003 omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed in February. But adding another $2.2 billion back into the 2003 pot would subject the plan to a budget point of order for exceeding the cap and allocation for 2003 spending set in this year's budget resolution.

Because all but the final details have been hammered out, the House Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee was scheduled to mark up its 2004 bill Wednesday, and the Homeland Security Subcommittee will mark up its bill Thursday. The Defense spending bill, which the administration wants to be the first on the House floor, is slated for markup next Wednesday.

The committee spokesman said the vice president also reiterated other points Bush made at the Tuesday meeting: to make sure that his priorities, such as the global AIDS initiative, are not underfunded, and that this increase be the only spending increase this year.

That point should provide some reassurance to GOP conservatives, who have said the same thing. Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, chairwoman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said the group would support the deal only if it means that the 2004 tab will not be increased again later this year.

"We want it to be the end of the game, not the beginning," Myrick said.

On Tuesday, the leadership group, which also included House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also agreed that appropriators would move earlier on some of the spending bills they normally hold until the end of the process.

To that end, Young said Tuesday that in addition to the Military Construction, Homeland Security and Defense spending bills, he and Stevens plan to act quickly on the Labor-HHS spending bill.

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