White House, congressional leaders agree on total figure for next year's spending bills

Friday, September 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration and congressional leaders have agreed to a $686 billion total for next year's spending bills, officials from both sides said Friday. The amount is $25 billion more than President Bush proposed at the beginning of the year.

Still to be resolved is a Democratic demand that Bush submit a written request for extra spending. Democratic lawmakers, particularly House members who all face re-election next year, want a formal budget request or a letter signed by Bush to ensure that the GOP would not use the additional spending against them as a campaign issue.

The spending agreement reflects a widespread desire for Congress to complete its routine work quickly in an environment dominated by the response to the terrorist attacks. It follows two weeks of intermittent talks between White House officials and top lawmakers.

``On the funding level, an agreement has been reached,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Tom Gavin, spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, confirmed a general agreement on spending to total $686 billion.

Last spring, Bush had proposed limiting 2002 spending to $661 billion, a 4 percent increase over this year's total that he said reflected a need to limit the growth of government.

But he said that excluded any additional increases he might seek for defense. He later requested an extra $18.4 billion for the military, which gained virtually universal support after the Sept. 11 strikes against the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Besides the defense increase, the extra spending will include an additional $4 billion for education plus $2.2 billion for responding to recent natural disasters, including last June's Tropical Storm Allison.

The year's spending total is expected to ultimately rise by tens of billions of dollars, because extra money is certain to be approved for the military, intelligence operations, security at airports, economic recovery and other items relating to the deadly terrorist attacks.

Congress has yet to complete any of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2002, which begins Monday. Bush and lawmakers have already enacted legislation keeping federal agencies open through Oct. 16 while work on the bills proceeds.

The spending bills cover one-third of the near $2 trillion federal budget. The rest of the money is spent for automatically paid benefits like Medicare, Social Security and interest paid to holders of federal debt.