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New Congress’ First Order of Business: Finishing the 107th’s Appropriations Work

After the ceremonious swearing-in of lawmakers and the introduction of several new leaders in both chambers on Tuesday, the108th Congress will immediately get down to business, needing to quickly dispense with its predecessor’s unfinished work.

First up will likely be a sixth continuing resolution to keep the government running at fiscal 2002 spending levels through the end of the month.

Then House and Senate leaders plan to eventually pass yet another CR and make it the vehicle for getting the 11 appropriations bills leftover from last year to President Bush’s desk.

The 107th Congress adjourned last year without fulfilling its one statutory obligation of funding the federal government, having only passed the Defense and military construction spending bills. The current fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2002, and the government has been operating under short-term measures ever since.

Lawmakers want to wrap up work on the 2003 spending bills before Bush delivers his State of the Union address Jan. 28, said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee majority.

“It’s an ambitious timetable,” he conceded. “We’re going to try to get done in three weeks what we weren’t able to accomplish in the previous eight months.”

Lawmakers are also expected to attach a provision to either CR that would extend benefits for unemployed workers who have already or soon will exhaust their federal assistance.

House and Senate leaders were unable to reconcile differences between competing unemployment bills before they adjourned last year, but a Senate leadership aide said discussions have been ongoing.

The Senate will soon tackle some high-profile nominations, such as CSX Corp. Chairman John Snow for Treasury secretary and Tom Ridge as secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security.

Much of the legislative calendar may be delayed, though, because both chambers must still complete administrative tasks, including chairmanship selections and committee assignments. Both parties begin those tasks this week.

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