House chair seeks to separate competitive sourcing debate from omnibus
A key House chairman hopes to move the omnibus appropriations measure forward by allowing the fiscal 2004 Transportation-Treasury spending bill to be considered separately.
House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said on Thursday he hoped to cut a deal that would allow the Transportation-Treasury bill to be taken up independently of the omnibus measure because Office of Management and Budget concerns about competitive sourcing regulations continue to bog down the legislation.
Earlier this month Congress approved language allowing federal employees to appeal decisions in job competitions conducted under OMB Circular A-76 to the General Accounting Office, but White House officials have raised objections to the language.
Young revealed his plan after several meetings on Thursday failed to yield major breakthroughs on the omnibus appropriations bill. However, top negotiators did express optimism about reaching a consensus soon.
After a meeting with his Young, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told reporters, "I think we'll be finished [Friday] night."
The measure could be on the House floor Saturday if agreements are struck on overtime pay rules, education funding and other issues. But Stevens acknowledged that a long-term continuing resolution might be needed if appropriators did not wrap up this weekend. "It's a burr in my saddle," Stevens said. The House on Thursday passed, 410-10, another continuing resolution that will last through Sunday.
Stevens met with Young again Thursday, and appropriators planned to meet with OMB officials Thursday afternoon.
"These are the final days and we're closing," Young said. "Everybody realizes it's time to finish the job."
After a meeting Wednesday, another public conference committee meeting is not expected. The most intractable problem remains the overtime pay issue. Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., met with Stevens and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Thursday to discuss the matter, but failed to resolve it. Specter and Stevens support the Senate amendment to block the Labor Department's proposed changes, which are favored by industry but opposed by labor. House and Senate GOP leaders back the new rules, and the White House has threatened a veto if the changes are blocked. Specter and Stevens were expected to meet with House appropriators Thursday.
Business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Restaurant Association, kept up the pressure to strip the overtime pay amendment in a letter to Frist Wednesday. The current rules "have not been revised for more than 50 years and the [Labor Department] proposal represents a much-needed attempt to restore their relevance to [the] realities of today's workplace and today's workers," the letter stated. Sources said Frist opposed the amendment but felt obliged to make a deal with Specter. That could include a temporary delay in implementing the rules, but the parties were still far apart. "It's still one or the other. We're not there yet," a Senate GOP aide said.
Young said that the White House was "coming our way" on including extra education funds and that they would oblige the administration by including an extra $350 million for the Millennium Challenge Account, aimed at promoting economic growth and fostering small-business startups in poor countries. Stevens said that he hoped the additions could be paid for without resorting to across-the-board cuts and that unrelated authorizations would not be attached, although Young said some riders were inevitable.
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