December 6, 2003 - Washington Post: Spending Bill Vote Is Unlikely This Month

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Spending Bill Vote Is Unlikely This Month

Spending Bill Vote Is Unlikely This Month

Spending Bill Vote Is Unlikely This Month

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 6, 2003; Page A04

Despite a personal plea from President Bush for swift action, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) indicated yesterday that he is reluctant to call senators back to Washington this month to finish work on spending bills for the rest of this fiscal year.

Bush called Frist on Thursday to urge him to bring the Senate back for a vote on the bill the week before Christmas, according to Eric Ueland, Frist's deputy chief of staff.

But Frist is "not inclined to call members back for a roll-call vote in light of the commitment he gave colleagues" before they recessed for Thanksgiving that they would not have to return for votes before the new session begins in January, Ueland told reporters.

Frist did not rule out a change of heart, however. He will consult with colleagues about the president's request, Ueland said, and if there is any change in plans, he will announce it Tuesday.

The House plans to return Monday to consider the $328 billion catchall spending measure, which combines seven appropriations bills that Congress was unable to approve separately before it left town for the holidays. Although the Senate will reconvene officially Tuesday to take up the bill, action could be blocked by an objection from a single senator. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, has said he intends to object.

Byrd has complained, in particular, about Frist's plan to pass the measure without a roll-call vote. He said the bill, which would finance most domestic agencies of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, is too important to pass without debate or on-the-record votes.

Republicans were under pressure to complete action on the measure this year to demonstrate their fiscal prowess, especially after criticizing Democrats for slow action on spending bills when they controlled the Senate last year.

But there is also concern that the bill, if brought up now, could be defeated unless there is a full turnout of senators, who could be difficult to round up as Christmas draws near. Also, many lawmakers are still seething over provisions dealing with overtime pay, media ownership and other issues that were significantly altered at the last minute under pressure from the White House. In addition, several conservative groups have complained about spending on "pork-barrel" projects.

Without Senate action this year, passage of the "omnibus" spending bill would probably be delayed until after Congress reconvenes Jan. 20 to hear the president's State of the Union speech. In the meantime, agencies covered by the bill would continue to be funded at current levels.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said he will seek unanimous consent Tuesday for immediate passage of the foreign operations section of the bill, which includes increased funding for the international effort to combat AIDS.

He called on Bush, who supports the new funding, to urge Senate GOP leaders to go along with the proposal. "This crisis is too pressing to allow the funding to be held captive any longer by the special-interest giveaways loaded into the omnibus appropriations bill," Daschle said.

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Congress; Appropriations



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