President Bush's proposed cut in the Corps of Engineers civil works budget for 2004 has been greeted with bipartisan criticism from Senate Appropriations Committee members, a clear signal that the lawmakers will push funding higher than Bush had recommended.

Bush's civil works request totaled $4.1 billion, a reduction of $524 million, or 11%, from the sum appropriated for 2003. Within the civil works total, Bush is proposing to slash the construction account 23%, to $1.35 billion.

At a March 5 hearing on the Corps and Bureau of Reclamation budgets, members of the Senate energy and water appropriations subcommittee said the Bush proposal falls short.

Acting Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said, "I'm disappointed that there area many important areas that seem to me to be inadequately funded." The subcommittee's top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, agreed, saying "The budget that [the Office of Management and Budget] submitted for the Army Corps is totally inadequate." And Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) added that the OMB request "is about as relevant as a U.N. resolution is to the French government."

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) served notice that he wanted to see delayed projects in his state move ahead. Stevens said he would block action on the energy and water bill until he gets an "understanding" that the Alaska projects will be constructed.

Acting Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works Les Brownlee said the budget request emphasizes completing 13 projects that can be finished in 2004 and eight other "high-priority" projects.

The hearings take place near the beginning of the long appropriations season. The committee isn't expected to vote until perhaps the summer on its own recommended spending levels for the Corps and other agencies.