Young, Stevens Left at Odds

Posted February 5, 2003 at 6:27pm

The task of dealing with the Homeland Security Department has sparked a rift between the House and Senate Appropriations committees over how and when they should reorganize themselves to accommodate the $36 billion agency.

The dispute comes as the two panels are engaged in a more public debate — with each other and with the White House — over the long-delayed fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill.

While Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has flatly stated he does not want to discuss the Homeland Security issue until after the omnibus bill is completed, House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) has pushed ahead, releasing details of his own plan last week and scheduling an organizational meeting for Feb. 11 to ratify it.

Young acted, according to sources in both chambers, without allowing Stevens or his staff any input or providing much advance notice.

“It was our calculation that, if we wanted to do something, we would have to do this alone,” said a House Appropriations aide, arguing that the other chamber is notoriously slow about resolving such issues. “The one thing Senators are good at is protecting their turf.”

Last Wednesday, Young unveiled his plan to put the Homeland Security Department under the auspices of the subcommittee on Transportation, while moving that panel’s non-security-related functions over to the subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government.

Young said at the time that he had discussed the proposal with Stevens and that the Alaskan had reacted positively. “He agrees with the concept, and he’s taking a little time to look at the jurisdictional issues involved,” Young said.

At the public level, Stevens reacted cordially, sending letters last Wednesday afternoon to Young and both chambers’ GOP leadership saying that he “welcome[d] Chairman Young’s proposal” but also “respectfully ask[ing] your consideration that we defer finalizing realignment” until after the omnibus was done.

But privately, Stevens was angry — one source described him as “furious” — because he felt he had been blindsided by the House proposal. Beyond Young’s perfunctory consultation of Stevens, almost no contact occurred at the staff level. Not even Senate Appropriations Staff Director Steven Cortese got advance warning that Young was going to publicize his plan.

“It was definitely a surprise,” said a Senate Appropriations aide.

At a meeting Wednesday with Young in Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office to discuss the omnibus bill, Stevens pressed his case on Homeland Security, requesting that Hastert ask House appropriators to put off their reorganization until the spending bill is complete. Sources familiar with the meeting said the Speaker told Stevens that he wanted the two sides to work out the issue but also stressed that House rules require panels to finish organizing by Feb. 15.

House Appropriations spokesman John Scofield explained Young’s decision to move forward by pointing to the Feb. 15 deadline, which the Florida lawmaker might have missed had he waited any longer to unveil his plan. The Senate has no such requirement.

Scofield added that, while no official rule exists, changes to Appropriations’ makeup have traditionally begun on the House side and then made their way over to the Senate. He also pointed to a statement from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that was supportive of Young’s moving forward on the issue.

“I commend Chairman Young and the House Appropriations committee for taking the initiative to create a new Homeland Security subcommittee,” Ridge said in a statement released Jan. 30, the day after Young announced his plans. “This move will streamline the way the department interacts with the congress.”

For his part, an aide said, Stevens has not yet examined the issue thoroughly enough to make his own proposal. He has suggested that Homeland Security might somehow be included in a reconstituted subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and judiciary, but he has not settled on any one configuration.

Appropriators on both sides of the Capitol acknowledged that it was necessary for the two panels to agree on a proposal. While technically the House and Senate could ratify different plans, it would make negotiations between the two chambers awkward and difficult if one’s set of 13 spending bills didn’t match the other’s. Having three Senate subcommittees conference with one House subcommittee, or vice versa, could further slow down a process that already results in frequent delays.

However the jurisdiction gets meted out, Young has more leeway than Stevens does in determining the personnel makeup of the new panel. He has already assigned the Homeland Security gavel to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who had been chairman of the Transportation subcommittee. Young has also named the other six Republicans who will hold slots on Homeland Security, three of whom would also sit on the redesigned Transportation-Treasury panel.

On the Senate side, Appropriations gavels are doled out according to seniority. Stevens himself is expected to keep the helm of the subcommittee on Defense, while Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) would likely remain in control of the subcommittee on Agriculture, rural development and related agencies.

That would mean Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) would have the right of first refusal for the Homeland Security gavel, assuming he wants to surrender the top spot on the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.