Update: FY 2003 Appropriations Drawing to a Close?

As reported in today’s Washington Post, House and Senate conferees are nearing completion on negotiations over H.R. 2, the omnibus bill for the remaining 11 FY 2003 appropriations bills that were not enacted by last October 1.

As reported in the issue of the Watcher, the bill passed by the Senate on January 23 employed 2.9 percent across-the-board cuts to ensure that the total cost of the omnibus appropriations bill held to the President’s limit of $390 billion. To allow for increases in some programs, such as Head Start, which were protected from these across-the-board cuts, however, the Senate used a few common accounting methods that calculated some of the additional costs of its bill as being FY 2004 expenditures – a process referred to as “advance funding” – which allowed for an additional $5 billion in spending to fit into the President’s capped total.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a Statement of Administrative Policy (SAP) on January 17, 2003, supporting the Senate’s work to complete the FY 2003 appropriations process, noting that, with the exception of military and defense programs, the federal government has been operating under a “series of Continuing Resolutions” – which provide for level funding at the FY 2002 level – “for over one fourth of FY 2003.” The SAP also commended the Senate for meeting the President’s spending limit for FY 2003 non-defense discretionary programs, but criticized some of the funding decisions for specific programs – and commented that these problems must be “dealt with before the bill would be acceptable to the President.” OMB was specifically critical of the Senate’s use of “advance funding,” calling it a “misleading practice." The SAP claims that the Senate’s funding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Assistance is underfunded by $1 billion, the Mother-to-Child AIDS Prevention Initiative by $150 million, and the State Department’s funding by more than $300 million. OMB notes that “Congress is urged to restore funding for these high-priority programs within the acceptable top line.” In order to meet these requests, however, the Senate version of the bill would have to make substantial cuts in other program areas, which is precisely what the SAP recommends. Specifically, the SAP opposes Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-WV) increase in homeland security funding, arguing that its original proposal is sufficient to meet the country’s needs. Finally, the SAP states that the President’s “senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill” if the final omnibus bill did not “include all current law provisions prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions.”

The Washington Post reports, however, that these differences are being addressed by negotiators, “spurred by Vice President Cheney’s active involvement.” Negotiations have added $6.1 billion for U.S. military activities in Afghanistan. This latest version also addresses the SAP’s concerns over the level of funding for the State Department and the FBI. These additional increases will only make adhering to the White House’s original $390 billion cap that much more difficult, and could result in additional across-the-board cuts.

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