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Appropriators Return for Busy Legislative Period

Faced with an administration request for more war money and a potential fight looming over budget reform, House appropriators return to work today to begin their most hectic stretch of the legislative year.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) intends to get all 13 fiscal 2005 spending bills reported out of his committee before the chamber adjourns for the summer on July 23. The first three measures — Defense, Homeland Security and Interior — are set for markup this week.

Every day the House is in session between now and then — including Mondays and Fridays — will feature some Appropriations activity, whether it’s full panel or subcommittee markups, Rules Committee hearings or floor action.

As is its annual tradition, the Senate is moving at a much slower pace and is not expected to have its spending bills ready for the floor before the August recess.

In March, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) suggested that he might deal with the time crunch by moving three-bill packages, or “minibuses,” rather than the more all-inclusive “omnibuses.” Young, for his part, has floated the idea of passing an omnibus measure early in the year rather than waiting until the end of the session.

Despite those creative suggestions, the House’s current plans don’t extend beyond passing the spending blueprints one at a time.

“I think we’re going to move 13 bills through regular order, and how we go from there depends on what the Senate can produce,” said John Scofield, a spokesman for Young.

The Defense spending bill that will be marked up this week includes a separate title that contains the extra $25 billion sought by the Bush administration for operations in Iraq. However, the measure will not include nearly as much flexibility as the White House is seeking.

Most Hill sources expect the war effort to eventually require more money — the House’s 2005 budget resolution left room for $50 billion more — but appropriators do not expect another supplemental request until early next year.

While the White House has mainly sought extra money for the Pentagon alone, Scofield said the committee may also explore ways to boost funding for intelligence agencies and the State Department.

In the meantime, as appropriators plow through their annual bills, they also plan to keep a close eye on the progress of budget-reform legislation. House Republican leaders have promised to put such a measure on the floor this session but have not set a definite timetable for action.

Whether appropriators decide to team up to oppose budget reform will depend on what the final package contains. The committee is not opposed in principle to discretionary spending caps, but committee members would likely be wary of any move to establish biennial budgeting or a mechanism to institute continuing resolutions automatically.

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