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Dispute with White House blocks deal on anti-terrorism spending package
By Jim Abrams, Associated Press, 07/12/02
WASHINGTON -- Senior Republican lawmakers took a rare jab at the Bush administration Friday, saying the Army may have to curtail training exercises as early as next week because White House budget demands have stalled a $30 billion anti-terrorism bill.
"The director of the Office of Management and Budget is only concerned about numbers. He is not concerned about what those numbers do for the country," House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla. said of White House OMB Director Mitch Daniels.
The rare criticism of a fellow Republican came an hour after House and Senate negotiators were to have met to formally wrap up talks on the emergency defense and homeland security spending bill that President Bush asked for last March.
Joining Young at a news conference, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was "appalled" at what he said was the hidebound approach of the White House budget office. "The bean counters are looking in the wrong jar," he said.
Daniels, at a news conference, said that "unfortunately Congress's delay, (its) attempt to hold hostage this bill so they could compel unnecessary spending, does put at risk" some money needed by the Pentagon and other agencies.
"One day soon I think I'll bleed to death through my tongue, I've been biting it so much," he added.
Young said the Army might have to call off training exercises early next week because, without congressional action on the spending bill, it would run out of the needed funds.
Don Zakheim, the top financial official at the Pentagon, on Friday concurred, telling reporters that the Defense Department would lack the money needed to pay soldiers, fix airplanes and operate ships if Congress does not approve the more than $14 billion in extra funds for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
"This is not a good signal to send to some of the bad guys out there," Zakheim said.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta also wrote Young Friday saying that, without money in the spending bill for the Federal Aviation Administration he would have to furlough 35,000 Air Traffic Service employees for five to eight days at the end of the fiscal year.
"The impact on the aviation system would be felt throughout the nation during the summer travel season," Mineta wrote.
Congressional negotiators were on the verge of reaching a compromise after more than a month of wrangling over the size of the package. The White House threatened a presidential veto of the $31.5 billion Senate bill, saying it was too expensive and filled with spending projects not related to national security. It pushed for a figure closer to the $29 billion House-passed bill.
Negotiators said they were in general agreement Thursday on a $30.4 billion bill, but that Daniels, at a meeting with Republican leaders Thursday evening, demanded cuts in various programs to bring the final amount down to the level of the House bill.
He said $1.1 billion could come from savings by limiting further lending from an airline bailout plan passed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Among other suggested possibilities for cuts were $80 million for embassy security, $400 million from general defense spending, $150 million from Pentagon renovation and $219 million from the new Transportation Security Administration.
"The president is ill-served by what is going on," Stevens said in a speech on the Senate floor. He said the OMB was consumed with "blind adherence" to a bottom-line number "without regard to the needs of the country at all."
One Republican leader, Senate minority leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., did come to the White House's defense, saying Democratic demands for more money was the main reason for the four-month delay in passing the measure. "Absolutely the White House is playing fair," he said. "Somebody has to keep an eye on the spending level."
The top two Democratic appropriators, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., also weighed in against Daniels and the OMB. Byrd, in a floor speech said the legislative process was "being maimed, it's being murdered, at the hands of someone who is not elected."
Obey said the $1.1 billion savings from the airline loan fund was an Enron-style accounting gimmick because the deadline for airlines to apply for the loans expired last month and the money was no longer there to save.
"I don't mind if the White House lies," Obey said. "I do mind when they ask me to lie, too."
The spending package would provide $14.8 billion for defense, $7.2 billion for homeland security, $5.5 billion for New York City rebuilding and $205 million to help out Amtrak.