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GOP Leaders Negotiate Completion of Omnibus

Fiscal 2003 Spending Bill to Clear Both Chambers by Week’s End

The House is set to pass an omnibus spending package today, wrapping up the 2003 appropriations process four months after the fiscal year began.

Conference committee negotiators settled on appropriations totaling $397.4 billion Wednesday after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Vice President Cheney stepped in to broker an agreement.

The Senate is expected to clear the bill before adjourning for the scheduled Presidents Day recess.

The final package — which comprises 11 unfinished appropriations bills — does provide $3.1 billion for drought relief, the inclusion of which had been among the final sticking points. But it also subjects most spending to an across-the-board cut as an offset for that and other additional Senate-approved spending.

Additionally, the bill retains a Senate-adopted provision to freeze funding for the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness Initiative, overseen by then-President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, John Poindexter, whose convictions stemming from his involvement in the Iran-contra scandal were later overturned.

The electronic monitoring program designed to catch terrorists has drawn sharp criticism from Members and public-interest groups concerned that it would invade citizens’ privacy. The amendment temporarily withholds funding for the initiative until Congress receives a comprehensive report on the project.

The bill also includes White House-requested funding for intelligence and military operations as well as money for state election reform initiatives.

And Republican negotiators, pressed by the moderates in the GOP Main Street Coalition and others, agreed to drop an environmental rider that would have given Alaska special rights to circumvent a rule used to discourage logging in national forests.

However, several of the riders they objected to remain, including one that expands logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, another that lays the groundwork for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and one that makes it easier for lumber companies to log national forests in general.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) decried the riders at her weekly briefing.

The bill allows the “clearing of our national forests that would make Teddy Roosevelt … very sad,” she said.

Pelosi also said the bill short-changes funding for homeland security, specifically objecting to negotiators’ decision to remove $200 million for local emergency personnel.

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