House Appropriations Chairman Young (Photo courtesy of the office of Rep. C.W. Bill Young)

House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young (R-Fla.) says he wants to pass the remaining unfinished spending measures for fiscal 2003 by the time President Bush delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 28. But Young admits, "This is not going to be easy." For one thing, the Senate would have to cut about $9 billion from legislation its appropriations panel cleared earlier this year. For another, Young notes, the House is slated to be in session only six days in January.

Only two of the 13 annual appropriations bills for 2003--Dept. of Defense and military construction--have been enacted. All the non-defense agencies are operating at 2002 funding levels under a continuing resolution. That "CR" expires Jan. 11, and Young told reporters on Dec. 19 his plan is to pass another short-term, stopgap measure and then an omnibus bill wrapping together the 11 appropriations bills for 2003 that haven't been passed yet.

Within the construction industry, there's particular concern about what the level of spending for highways will be. The current CR says the funding should be obligated at the rate of $31.8 billion--a figure industry likes. But it also says the Dept. of Transportation must halt disbursements once they hit $27.7 billion--a provision that worries construction.

Young wouldn't say what 2003 figure he would recommend for highways. But he did say, "We will have an issue with transportation this year," with the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) slated to take place in 2003.

He referred to transportation, with its guaranteed funding, as one of the "mandatory spending programs." He added that "those who are concerned that there's too much money being spent, they can still vote for mandatory, back-door spending bills like TEA-21 and the agriculture bill and things like that and ['they're] not really holding the line on spending."

Young says, "The House will work its will and the Senate will work its will on these issues."

In addition, there may be some reorganization of the appropriations committee's structure to handle the new Dept. of Homeland Security. Young says that he doesn't want to establish a 14th appropriations subcommittee, but didn't rule out setting up a homeland security subcommittee and then rearranging responsibilities of the other panels into 12 new subcommittees.

The new department will encompass more than 20 federal agencies or parts of departments, whose budgets were overseen by any of several Appropriations subcommittees, including transportation, Treasury-Postal Service and Veterans-Housing and Urban Development--Independent Agencies.