Chambers Set Rush to Recess

Posted March 28, 2003 at 6:19pm

The House is slated to begin a rare five-day workweek today while the Senate is expected to once again grind to a halt in a debate over homeland security issues.

House Republican leaders hope to muscle through several major pieces of President Bush’s agenda in the next two weeks as Members sprint toward their first Congressional recess since February.

Democrats in the Senate have a working list of at least five amendments seeking a total of about $9 billion more in spending than the White House’s request for $74.7 billion in the supplemental appropriations bill. The bill is designed chiefly to pay for expenses incurred by the war and new homeland security measures, but several lawmakers are also expected to seek assistance for the ailing airline industry.

In addition, several senior Democratic aides said they will try to add $4 billion in first responder funding, another $1 billion to pay for port security and $350 million more to compensate local governments for smallpox vaccination efforts.

“The theme throughout this debate is going to be, ‘We should be doing as least as much to protect the security of the citizens here at home as we are doing to protect America’s interests overseas,’” said a senior Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Late last week, Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, suggested that homeland security funding be increased by $8.2 billion.

Democrats also will try to prevent the White House from having the discretion to shift money within different agencies to pay for programs without Congress’ approval.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Friday reiterated the president’s desire to have such flexibility.

“The president thinks that flexibility is important for [the Department of Defense] to be able to fight this war and to do what they need to do,” he said.

And Congressional Republicans have vowed to dig in and defend Bush’s funding request, noting that White House advisers have assured them that the administration has no plans to capitulate to Democrats’ calls for additional spending.

“They are prepared to pursue the supplemental relentlessly and criticize the Democrats for not supporting the troops and the liberation of Iraq if the Democrats turn this into a partisan fight,” a Republican source said.

These disparate views are likely to again bring the floor to a standstill this week, further bogging down the almost evenly divided Senate in a legislative quagmire and jeopardizing passage of the supplemental spending bill and the 2004 budget resolution before the Easter recess.

But at least two judicial nominees will receive votes next week. The Senate today will vote on Theresa Lazar Springmann to be U.S. District judge for the Northern District of Indiana, and on Tuesday there will be a vote on Timothy Tymkovich’s nomination to become U.S. Circuit judge for the 10th Circuit.

Republican leaders also hope to address the CARE Act and the Foreign Service Intelligence Act if time allows.

Across the Capitol, the House has scheduled a five-day workweek and will likely go from Monday to Friday the following week as well, as Republican leaders hope to pass the bulk of President Bush’s domestic agenda before lawmakers leave town.

In addition to hoping to pass the fiscal 2004 budget conference report and the wartime supplemental spending bill, House GOP leaders also are pushing to have a comprehensive energy bill passed before the break, and have even made noises about completing a tax-cut package.

Whether the House can complete so many big-ticket items in two weeks is an open question, but GOP leadership aides said the ambitious schedule is consistent with the plan they established before the war with Iraq began.

“We’re continuing to pursue our dual-track strategy — confronting the war on terror abroad and a war on the sluggish economy on the domestic front,” said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

At the same time, leaders are aware that when lawmakers go home during the recess, their constituents will likely press them on domestic issues as well as the war.

“We want our Members ready and willing to answer the question, ‘What have you done to improve this economy?’ and have a host of answers,” said House GOP Conference spokesman Greg Crist.

Passing a budget would be the biggest feather in the House’s cap. House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) met last Thursday to begin planning for a conference between the two chambers.

The Senate has already chosen its conferees, while the House will likely unveil its selections Tuesday.

Whether the House can tackle a tax-cut package soon is largely dependent on how quickly the budget resolution is completed. A Ways and Means spokeswoman said Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) plans to wait until they have the final number from the budget conference before setting a timeline for marking up the tax bill.

The supplemental spending bill, meanwhile, is on the forefront of lawmakers’ minds as they watch the progress in Iraq. Bush has asked to have a bill on his desk by April 11, meaning that the House would need to pass its version by the end of this week.

House leaders and Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) have vowed to keep the bill as “clean” as possible, though just as in the Senate there does appear to be increasing momentum for adding some form of assistance to the beleaguered airline industry.

A comprehensive energy measure is also on the Republican leadership’s wish list. The Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up a bill Tuesday.

Putting aside partisan differences for the time, family and friends will say goodbye this morning to former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D), an adviser to four consecutive presidents before going on to represent New York for 24 years in the Senate. The service will be held at 10 a.m. in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in downtown Washington, D.C. The burial service will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at 1 p.m. Citing the lack of space in the church, the family has asked that only Senators attend.