Dec 12, 2007

Bills in a state of flux

Los Alamos Monitor
Bills in a state of flux

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Monitor Assistant Editor

Hopes of bridging an appropriations impasse in Washington, D.C., took a turn for the worse Monday, deepening the budget uncertainty for federal agencies, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A spokesman in Sen. Pete Domenici’s office said this morning that everything was in a state of flux.

Domenici is the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the Department of Energy funding.

Chris Gallegos, the senator’s communications director, said the committee had been making progress, including restoring “most of what the House tried to do in terms of cuts.”

The House version of the appropriations bill passed several months ago with deep cuts in the laboratory’s budget.

“Last night everything hit the wall,” Gallegos said.

The Associated Press and others reported Monday that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Ill.) threatened to abandon an attempted compromise package that was originally scheduled for debate today.

With 11 of 12 appropriations bills yet to be passed and time running out at the end of this week on the current stopgap funding resolution for most of the federal government, Congress and the White House remain at odds.

Democratic leaders began work last week on an omnibus spending bill that provided funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timetable for withdrawal. Their proposal also included an $11 billion reduction in proposed spending.

But White House budget director Jim Nussle said last week that the new proposal faced a veto for exceeding President Bush’s spending limits.

The AP reported that Nussle accused Democrats of “trying to leverage troop-funding for more pork-barrel spending.”

Obey said it was just the opposite, that the president was willing to relent a little on domestic spending in order to get money for the war.
“It is extraordinary that the president would request an 11-percent increase for the Department of Defense, a 12-percent increase for foreign aid, and $195 billion of emergency funding for the war, while asserting that a 4.7-percent increase for domestic programs is fiscally irresponsible,” said Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.), Obey’s counterpart in the Senate, on Monday.

“I don’t see how we have any choice but to go to the president’s numbers on appropriations to make clear that we aren’t going to link the war with token funding on the domestic side,” Obey told AP Monday.

Included in a new round of cuts would be earmarks, or pet projects, specifically inserted in the appropriations bills by lawmakers in both parties.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has begun to lay employees off, with the first group of voluntary departures scheduled to separate Jan. 10.

The laboratory reported that about 450 have volunteered, out of the 500-750 employees the laboratory has targeted for the reductions.
Employees who volunteered to leave have until Thursday to change their mind.

Phase two of the lab’s program will designate employees for involuntary separation. A phase three was included in the restructuring plan to deal with any further negative consequences of the appropriations process.

Gallegos said that while negotiators for the appropriations subcommittee could not stop the current lay-offs, they were trying to avoid future reductions.

The previous omnibus spending bill did not pass the House until Jan. 31, 2007.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Pelosi backs down in spending battle
By Alexander Bolton | Posted: 12/12/07 11:50 AM [ET]
December 12, 2007

In the face of stiff opposition from powerful fellow Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has abandoned a proposal she supported less than 24 hours ago to eliminate lawmakers’ earmarks from the omnibus spending package.

Pelosi told the Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees, the so-called appropriations cardinals, that earmarks would stay in the omnibus and that Democratic leaders would accede to cut spending to levels demanded by President Bush in order to save 11 spending bills from a veto, said sources familiar with a meeting that took place in Pelosi’s office early Wednesday morning.

The House Democrats’ tentative plan is to finalize the package for passage in the next day or so, said sources.

By leaving earmarks largely untouched and agreeing to Bush’s budget ceiling, Democrats have capitulated in their spending battle with Republicans. In the end, Democrats realized they would not be able to muster enough Republican votes to override Bush’s veto. The president vowed to reject any spending package that exceeded the $933 billion limit he set.

The good news for Democrats is that this move takes them significantly closer to enacting into law their spending priorities on a range of domestic issues.

“We are going to meet our national priorities long ignored by Republicans and the Bush administration,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.

As recently as Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi endorsed House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey’s (D-Wis.) proposal to yank all earmarks from the omnibus in order to save an estimated $9.5 billion. The money would have been used to minimize cuts to domestic programs important to Democrats.

When asked Tuesday afternoon if Obey’s plan was off the table, Pelosi replied: “Not from my standpoint.”

Walking into a meeting between the Democratic Senate and House leaderships, Pelosi said she thought Obey’s plan was “great.”

A Democratic aide also said Tuesday that Pelosi supported the proposal to eliminate earmarks.

Pelosi, however, ran into stiff opposition from her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who served as the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee before becoming Senate Democratic leader.

The Nevada senator declined to endorse Obey’s proposal when asked about it at a press conference Tuesday.

Reid said he would be happy to hear what Obey had to say but also defended his right as a lawmaker to earmark funds for his home state.

“Without getting into a lot of detail, I really am focused on the Congress. I think we have equal say as to what should be spent in our states. I think that I have as much right — in fact, far more, because I know more — than Jim Nussle has to determine what money should be spent in the state of Nevada,” he said, referring to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “This should not all come from the White House.”

Pelosi also faced strong opposition from the Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees, who in some cases had been waiting through 12 years of Republican control to finally wield a gavel on spending decisions.

Pelosi assuaged their concerns Wednesday morning by informing them that earmarks would not be cut and spending would be pared to the president’s levels to smooth the way for the omnibus to pass. Many government programs have had to subsist on a year-long stopgap spending measure because Congress failed to pass a slew of spending bills in 2006 and many lawmakers want to avoid that from happening again.