Senate panel unanimous in adding new AmeriCorps funding

With little fanfare, the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday added nearly $2 billion in emergency supplemental spending-including $100 million not requested by the Bush administration for the AmeriCorps volunteer program-to the $3.6 billion fiscal 2004 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

The draft spending measure was reported out of committee by unanimous consent and is expected on the Senate floor today, said Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Stevens said the Senate plans to pass the Legislative Branch bill containing the fiscal 2003 disaster supplemental Thursday so that it can go to conference with House, which passed its version of the bill-without the supplemental spending-early next week. That way, Congress can adopt the conference report and send it to President Bush for his signature by the end of next week, Stevens said.

The supplemental includes $1.55 million in disaster relief funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $50 million for NASA to investigate the Space Shuttle Columbia accident and $289 million to fight wildfires out West, as well as the $100 million for AmeriCorps.

In committee, Stevens offered the amendment to attach the administration's supplemental request to the Legislative Branch bill. VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., offered the second degree amendment to add the AmeriCorps funds on behalf of herself, VA-HUD Chairman Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., Stevens and Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Both were accepted by unanimous consent.

Demonstrating the broad support the AmeriCorps program enjoys in the Senate, nearly every senator present at the markup asked to be added as a co-sponsor to the Bond-Mikulski amendment. After the markup, Stevens told reporters he considered the funding shortfall that AmeriCorps now faces "a serious mistake" that has to be corrected.

To address concerns raised by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that enough disaster relief money will be available now that hurricane season is under way, the committee unanimously adopted report language requesting that FEMA respond immediately, to the extent to which it can, to use its funds to make emergency repairs to levees.