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<p><b>This Week.</b> Both the House and Senate resume legislative business this week after a month-long August recess. The Senate, which reconvened on Tuesday, will focus on legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, S. 2452 and the 2003 Interior appropriations bill. The House, which does not begin work until today (9/4) has eight bills to be considered under suspension of the rules, a dam safety measure (HR 4727), a measure to make permanent various education tax breaks included in last year's big tax-cut package and motions to go conference on two spending bills. On Friday, both Houses will be conducting a special meeting in Federal Hall in New York, New York in remembrance of the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001.
<b>A Tough Row to Hoe</b>
This will be a tough couple of weeks for legislators. Looming over them is the November 5th election currently only 8 short weeks away. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, any decision or legislation they undertake will be rife with the underlying politics. It is impossible to separate the two – with an almost evenly divided Senate and a single digit majority in the House – there is too much at stake. </p>
<p>Just some of the issues that they will be grappling with include:</p>
<p><b>Homeland security:</b> The House passed their legislation to create this new Department before the break and the Senate is expected to take up their version this week. Although this represents one of the President’s top priorities, the legislation is fraught with pitfalls. The House passed bill closely resembled the President’s request but the Senate, under the jurisdiction of Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), has included several components which make the bill untenable and subject to a Presidential veto.
One of the issues is the <b><a href="http://www.cse.org/informed/issues_template.php/1046.htm">Worker Flexibility</a></b> provision. The plan to create a new agency is audacious. It takes 22 agencies and over 170,000 people and tries to meld them into a coherent structure that can protect the life and liberty of the American people. However, instead of letting them hit the ground running, Democrats would rather pay homage to their labor buddies and saddle this new agency with outdated and unworkable civil service requirements. A 21st century agency needs a 21st century structure. There is a reason why the federal government and its bureaucratic nature are the butt of jokes around the globe. Do we want this new Department, the one charged with protecting the safety our children and grandchildren, to become just another agency so we don’t hurt the feelings of dinosaurs known as the federal unions?? I say take a hike AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees), and hit the road AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). I want my children and grand-children to have the best and brightest working to protect our national safety -- not some bureaucrat that is more worried about protecting their pay grade and job security. </p>
<p><b>Appropriations:</b> The process of funding the federal government is always messy. Besides the usual clashes between fiscal conservatives and big spending liberals, this year you need to add a Republican House versus a Democrat Senate to the mix. This has already proved difficult, as the overall spending numbers on the Senate are nearly $10 billion higher than the House number, which conforms to the President’s request.
House conservatives, in an attempt to stop another raid on the federal treasure chest, such as we have in the past few years, negotiated an agreement with House leadership to bring up the <a href="http://www.cse.org/informed/issues_template.php/1082.htm">Labor, HHS bill</a> next before any other appropriations bill could be passed. Thus, sometime near mid to late September the House is expected to bring up a bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education at or near the President’s request level of $130 billion. This funding level should be enough. It is a $6.6 billion increase over last year, which is an increase of 5.3 percent. Add to this the fact that if this level were enacted:</p>
<li>The Department of Education will have increased by over 136 percent since Republicans took over in 1996
<li>Total LHE spending will have increased by 94 percent since 1996
<li> Discretionary spending as a whole has increased by 19 percent over the last two years - this is particularly concerning considering that throughout the entire 1990’s it only went <a href="http://www.heritage.org"target="_blank">up by 14%</a>!
<p>However, for the big spenders in Congress, no spending is ever enough and they plan to oppose limiting the bill to $130 billion, spelling defeat for any fiscal conservancy this year. The high times are over. While spending was allowed to increase dramatically over the past few years due to surpluses we are now in a time of war and deficits. Sacrifices have to be made and the time to start is now. </p>
<p>Even without adding the Fall ’02 elections into the mix these fights would be nearly insurmountable – but with the elections you have a classic Washington gridlock brewing. Legislators will be too focused on ginning up their constituencies and kowtowing to their special interests to do what it is right for the American people. And who always loses out on this battle? The American taxpayer.
As we head into elections that will determine which party runs the House and Senate for the next two years, remember to let your legislator know that you will be watching and that you want President Bush to have the flexibility he needs to run the Department of Homeland Security effectively, and that you don’t want to foot the bill for even more excessive government spending!