October 30, 2003

House eyes long-term anti-shutdown measure

By Peter Cohn, CongressDaily

The House Thursday passed, 406-13, a one-week continuing resolution to fund the government through next Friday, Nov. 7, with the Senate expected to follow suit later Thursday. The current CR expires this Friday.

The length of the CR has been the topic of considerable wrangling, with appropriators and Senate GOP leaders concerned that the House Republican leadership is being unrealisticóa fact House leaders do not dispute. But by continuing to apply pressure through short-term CRs, they hope to force agreements on unfinished fiscal 2004 appropriations by the end of next week. House GOP leaders will weigh progress next week and then make a decision on the length of the next CR, which could last until Nov. 21 or through January, according to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., a member of the leadership team.

"A lot of that depends on conference production," he said. Appropriators and Senate GOP leaders prefer the next CR to last until Nov. 21, arguing they can complete fiscal 2004 spending bills by then.

Asked about the prospect of a long-term CR, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., replied: "I don't like that. I want to finish our work now." With Thanksgiving around the corner, aides in both chambers say the clock may weigh heavily on the eventual decision, possibly more so than progress on fiscal 2004 appropriations or the Medicare prescription drug bill.

But lawmakers and aides report progress on both counts, and the House is slated to consider both a $20.2 billion fiscal 2004 Interior spending bill and the $87.5 billion fiscal 2004 Iraq supplemental Thursday. The Senate could approve the measures this week or early next. The Senate also could complete an $18.1 billion fiscal 2004 Foreign Operations spending bill this week but would still have four more regular fiscal 2004 appropriations bills to complete.

Work could wrap up next week on fiscal 2004 Energy and Water and Military Construction spending bills, although conferees remain apart on several key issues. Less certain is the fiscal 2004 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, hung up over a Senate-provision blocking changes to Labor Department overtime rules. House Democrats also are livid over a decision by House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, to strip out $1 billion in Democratic earmarks as retribution for voting against the bill on the floor.

In response to a letter last week from House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., Regula acknowledged the move in a Wednesday letteróbut argued not all Democrats would go without projects. "While I have decided not to provide member projects to those House members who opposed the bill, this will not mean the 208 congressional districts represented by members of both parties who voted against the bill will not receive any portion of funding for member projects," Regula wrote, adding: "As you know, projects cross many district lines. In addition, projects requested and funded by Democrat and Republican senators also will benefit districts represented by a member who voted against the House Labor-HHS bill."