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A wiser Young gets tough with budget

The Appropriations chairman puts the most painful cut in Congress' own spending bill, trimming it 4 percent.

In his second year as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. C.W. Bill Young is playing hardball.

The Largo Republican says he learned a lot in his rookie year and is trying aggressive strategies to move big, contentious spending bills through Congress.

When GOP leaders this year disregarded his advice and adopted a budget that Young thought had too many cuts, he turned the tables on them. He slashed the budget for congressional offices, saying members should feel the same pain they are inflicting on the rest of government.

He also has gotten smarter about dealing with party leaders. He got frustrated last year because they ignored his pleas to raise budget caps. He now puts every message to them in writing.

"If there's any question what I told them, I've got it in writing," he said last week in an interview.

It is a subtle way Young can say I told you so.

That's exactly what happened a year ago. Young warned party leaders that they needed to raise the budget cap, the spending limit set by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, to get enough votes to pass the bills and get President Clinton's signature.

But the Republicans ignored his advice and cobbled together a patchwork of accounting tricks and gimmicks to make it appear they were staying within the guidelines.

They miscalculated. Clinton then took advantage of the GOP disarray and vetoed several bills. Ultimately, he pressured the Republicans to accept programs they didn't want.

That wasn't the first time. Clinton has frequently outmaneuvered the GOP on last-minute bills by vetoing some and threatening to veto others during the days before adjournment. That has given him leverage to get what he wants.

Young and other Republicans don't want that to happen again. But they disagree on strategy. Young urged party leaders to adopt a larger budget that he thought would satisfy many Democrats and get support from Clinton.

It was about $6-billion more than the GOP leadership wanted, but Young thought it would be cheaper in the end. Young argued that if the Republican budget was too low, Clinton would outflank them again and use his last-minute tricks to run up the cost an additional $26-billion.

The GOP leaders did not agree. They opted for the lower budget so they could include a large tax cut.

Rep. John Kasich, an Ohio Republican who heads the Budget Committee, said the GOP plan still provides enough money to run the government.

"I never sit around and worry that the government has too little to spend," Kasich said.

But the smaller budget has made Young's job more difficult. The budget resolution approved by the House directed him to increase spending for education, veterans' health care and defense. And Young was forced to increase transportation spending because of previous bills passed by Congress.

The result: cut spending in other bills. So Young put the most painful cut in Congress' own spending bill, trimming it by nearly 4 percent.

"If we can't cut ourselves, how can we cut anyone else?" Young asked.

Within that bill, Young's committee gave some big cuts to the Capitol Police, a popular agency that would be slashed by 11.6 percent when many in Congress want more officers in response to the 1998 Capitol shooting.

Young's approach is a variation of the old "Washington Monument Strategy," in which federal agencies shut down a popular program or attraction such as the Washington Monument to call attention to cuts they dislike. The committee was also making a powerful point to Rep. Tom DeLay, House majority whip, who was good friends with one of the two Capitol police officers killed in the shooting.

Young's plan stirred up a fuss. Many members balked at the idea of cutting police officers.

"The last thing we need to be doing is cutting back security on this building," Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, said.

The strategy appears to be working. Republican leaders have delayed the bill because they realized it couldn't pass the full House.

"Sometimes you have bills that look good in a leadership meeting and don't look good when they hit the street," said John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "It became apparent we had to take another look at it."

Young may disagree with his fellow Republicans about strategy, but they praise his efforts to keep bills moving.

"There's nobody who has more integrity and is more fiscally responsible than Bill Young," Kasich said.

"We have some numbers that are fairly tough," said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. "The appropriators have done a good job."

Young, who has been in Congress since 1970, says he is getting accustomed to the powerful job. He says he has better relations with GOP leaders and is now able to assert himself more.

"I'm enjoying it more," he said, "because I have more self-confidence."

Please, Mr. Chairman

Everybody wants goodies from Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Largo Republican who heads the House Appropriations Committee. He's gotten 21,547 requests for new programs from his House colleagues this year. Here's a sampling:

+ $2.35-million for controlling brown tree snakes

+ $3-million for joint U.S.-Norwegian mine-clearing vehicle technology

+ $3-million for the National Center for Asphalt Technology.

+ $7.5-million for bovine tuberculosis research.

Spreading the pain

The government is flush with money, but Rep. C.W. Bill Young still must cut many spending bills to comply with a House-passed budget resolution that calls for a big tax cut. In a hardball manuever to remind members that their votes have consequences, Young put the most painful cuts in the bill that pays for congressional offices.

Current 2001

year, in allocation, Percent

Spending bill millions in millions change

Transportation $13,671 $14,989 9.64%

Defense $268,605 $288,391 7.37%

Treasury, Postal Service $13,610 $14,088 3.51%

Military construction $8,352 $8,634 3.38%

Energy and water development $21,100 $21,743 3.05%

Labor, HHS+, Education $95,732 $98,517 2.91%

Commerce, Justice, State $34,977 $35,404 1.22%

Agriculture $14,280 $14,376 0.67%

VA-HUD, independent agencies $78,420 $78,017 -0.51%

Foreign Operations $13,461 $13,281 -1.34%

Interior $15,128 $14,723 -2.68%

District of Columbia $430 $414 -3.72%

Congress $2,449 $2,355 -3.84%

+Health & Human Services

Note: The bills are still pending and are likely to change before they're passed.

Source: Appropriations Committee

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