INSIDE WASHINGTON/Budget stalls in election-year standoff
This month, as Congress returns to Washington from its summer recess, legislators will resume work on 13 appropriations bills and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Local government leaders will return to the capitol as well, lobbying aggressively for federal appropriations and greater say in spending of homeland defense dollars.
“Mayors from across the country will come to Washington on Sept. 26 to meet with members of Congress to discuss our key budget priorities,” says Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Lobby Day for America’s Cities will help ensure that the needs of cities are considered carefully at a crucial time in the appropriations process.”
The House already has agreed to the Bush Administration’s proposed budget of $759 billion, but the Senate is asking for $768 billion, which includes funding for domestic programs supported by local officials. The difference is likely to lead to a Congressional budget showdown, and, if the two chambers cannot settle on final appropriations before Oct. 1, they will return for a lame duck session to reach an agreement.
“I think we are going to have a standoff in the House and Senate because of the budget differences,” says Cameron Whitman, director of policy and federal relations for the National League of Cities (NLC). “I would be astounded if we don’t have a lame duck session because there is an awful lot of work they need and have to do.”
“[In] September we will see some of the controversial bills passed, but we anticipate the lion’s share to be incorporated into a continuing resolution, which will likely be dealt with after the elections,” adds Jeff Arnold, deputy director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Counties.
Control of both the House and Senate is up for grabs in upcoming mid-term elections. Consequently, it is unclear whether local governments would benefit from a lame duck session, which historically has led to increased spending.
GOP leaders have pledged to delay action on spending bills if Republicans regain control of the Senate and retain the House majority in the elections. In that case, the 108th Congress would adhere to President Bush’s budget requests.
Against that backdrop, city and county officials are concerned that their needs will be brushed aside. They are particularly eager to influence formation of the Homeland Security Department, which will determine strategies for addressing local terrorism response and will potentially absorb many existing domestic programs.
“The major concern is that cities are places terrorists attack,” says Arlington (Mass.) Selectman Charles Lyons, second vice president of NLC. “We are in the crosshairs, and we simply want to be an equal partner in developing a national strategy.”
Already, local leaders are crying “Foul!” over President Bush’s proposed cuts to the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLBG). Proponents of the cuts say the Department of Homeland Security will accomplish the goals previously addressed by COPS and LLBG. However, local leaders are adamant about keeping those programs outside the Homeland Security umbrella.
They are similarly protective of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). Facing potential elimination, the program reimburses local governments for jailing illegal aliens for the federal government. As part of the nation’s homeland security strategy, counties will likely see an increase in the number of detainees. As a result, NLC has issued an action alert, urging its members to lobby their senators and congressmen to continue funding for SCAAP in 2003.
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.