The day after Congress finally passed a budget resolution requiring more self-discipline than it has ever displayed, the House Appropriations Committee thumbed its nose at the guidelines for enforcing it.
As the Appropriations Committee met to start moving out next year's money bills, now that spending targets have been set, an attempt was made to cut Saturday mail deliveries to trim the Postal Service's funds to fit the budget resolution. Appropriations Chairman Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.) opposed the cut, saying, in effect, that the Budget Committee wasn't going to tell the Appropriations Committee what to do.
Budget Chairman Robert Giaimo (D-Conn.), who is also a senior member of Appropriations, denounced Whitten's position and stormed out of the meeting, telling reporters the Appropriations Committee was trying to "subvert the reconciliation process. They're playing the old-fashioned game of turf, saying "the Budget Committee can't tell us what to do."
Giaimo said there would have to be a leadership-level meeting to get all House committees pulling together if the budget process is to work.
Reconciliation is a new, rigorous program of restraint that Congress reluctantly accepted as part of this year's first budget resolution in its effort to achieve a balanced budget. Eight legislative committees in the House have been directed to cut $6.4 billion from next year's spending for programs under their jurisdiction. Their recommendations are supposed to be submitted by July 2 to the Budget Committee, which will package them into a reconciliation bill for action by Congress.
The House Post Office and Civil Service Committee has been ordered to find savings of about $500 million. One way to do this would be to stop Saturday mail deliveries. This was on most lists of possible cuts drawn up by White House and congressional leaders late last winter as they sought ways to balance the budget.
Because the budget resolution passed Congress only Thursday, none of the legislative committees has had time -- even if they had the will -- to sit down and decide which of their favored programs to cut. If the legislative committees ignore the reconciliation order, House Democratic leaders or the Budget Committee may draft a reconciliation bill.
But the budget resolution has taken so long to pass that the appropriation process is running behind schedule. Whitten called a meeting of his committee yesterday to report out the first two of 13 appropriation bills -- one for the Postal Service and Treasury Department and one of the departments of state, justice and commerce.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis), who also serves on both Appropriations and Budget, offered an amendment to cut the funds for the Postal Service by $500 million with a provision ordering an end to Saturday mail deliveries. Obey said the Appropriations Committee should delay action on approving funds for the Postal Service until the legislative committee with jurisdiction over postal matters had had time to act on reconciliation.
Rep. Tom Steed (D-Okla.), manager of the postal appropriation bill, opposed Obey, saying the Appropriations Committee wasn't supposed to write legislation into a money bill. He also cautioned that if Congress cuts postal appropriations, it will feel the wrath of 600,000 postal workers. The committee defeated Obey on a voice vote and refused to have a recorded vote on the issue.
After the meeting, Obey said: "Cooler heads at the highest level will have to sit down and work this out. The House voted yesterday to do something. It is no longer a matter of committee against committee but a decision by the House."
The two bills provided about $18 billion in new spending authority for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, $132 million below the president's requests.
With approval of the budget resolution, the emphasis of Congress' work shifts from authorizing legislation to putting up the money to pay for the programs. The early part of the session that began in January was devoted to drafting and passing bills authorizing federal action. That provided guidance to the Budget and Appropriations committees, which then followed with legislation setting over-all spending targets and now with the appropriation bills, which are a key to the treasury.
Adoption of the budget resolution also frees a $15 billion supplemental appropriation bill for various programs that have run out of money for this year. It had to wait for a provision in the budget resolution raising this year's spending ceiling.
The supplemental appropriation bill includes $1.5 billion in unemployment compensation for 600,000 workers thrown out of work by imports, $740 million for disaster grants and loans, $343 million in black lung benefits for 138,000 claimants and $894 million in disaster relief for victims of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Several programs, including trade adjustment benefits, are on the brink of running out of money or have actually done so.
House action on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.