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While most of Congress is eyeing President Bush’s $2.23 trillion budget proposal, conferees are busily trying to wrap up the fiscal 2003 spending bill.

“We’ll break the plastic [on the fiscal 2004 budget] when we’ve finished with the omnibus,” House Appropriations Committee majority spokesman John Scofield said Tuesday, adding that negotiations are going well.

Conferees worked over the weekend as they try to close the books on the 12,000-page document by their self-imposed Valentine’s Day deadline.

The Senate passed a $390 billion package last month that incorporates the 11 outstanding spending bills not enacted last year — only the military construction and Defense measures have been passed and signed into law — while the House passed an empty bill to speed up the process.

The Senate version included additional funding for Medicare, education and drought aid that House leaders had not envisioned.

Even if appropriators meet their Feb. 14 deadline, another continuing resolution is necessary to keep the government functioning as the current stop-gap measure expires Friday.

Additionally, Bush has 10 days once both chambers accept the conference report to decide whether to sign or veto it.

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