House lawmakers feud over date code monies

A Capitol Hill power struggle has put proposed emergency year 2000 funds in limbo.


A group of conservative House Republicans want lawmakers to offset proposed emergency
monies with budget cuts.


But House lawmakers are at odds over what constitutes an emergency. Under House rules,
emergency funding requests don’t require budget cuts.


The fight has the overtones of a partisan battle, some industry analysts said, adding
that some Republican lawmakers might be trying to use the year 2000 issue to hurt Vice
President Gore’s run for the presidency.


“It’s purely a political issue now,” said Robert Deller, president of
Market Access International Inc. of Chevy Chase, Md.


The problem is that it leaves agencies in the crossfire, “getting whipped around
by Congress,” said Bob Dornan, senior vice president for Federal Sources Inc. of
McLean, Va.


The date code money debate heated up as Congress was preparing to adjourn for its
Fourth of July break.


House lawmakers had seeded nearly $4 billion in year 2000 funding requests in three
fiscal 1999 appropriations bills: $1.6 billion in the Defense appropriations bill; $2.25
billion in the Treasury-Postal Service spending bill; and $30 million in the Agriculture
appropriations bill.


Before it adjourned, the House Appropriations Committee removed the $1.6 billion from
the Defense bill. Although a similar move to cut the funds from the Treasury-Postal
Service bill failed, a committee staff member said it is likely lawmakers will ax the
$2.25 billion request as well.


Meanwhile, in a compromise move, some House lawmakers proposed combining the year 2000
requests in a standalone bill.


The rancor over year 2000 funding arose when a House group, known as the Conservative
Action Team, complained that Appropriations was sidestepping the balanced budget deal
negotiated last year.


“We have absolutely no problem with year 2000 fixes,” said Chris Jones,
spokesman for Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.), the team chairman. “Our concern with it
was solely focused on the fact that it was declared emergency spending.”


Much time and effort has been spent on balancing the budget, Jones said.


“Now is not the time to waive the spending rules. If it is such a dire emergency,
let’s find spending elsewhere,” he said.


The president needs to exercise some leadership on targeting year 2000 money, Jones
said.


The Information Technology Association of America disagrees with requiring budget
offsets, said Olga Grkavac, senior vice president for systems integration for the
Arlington, Va., association.


“We think it is an emergency. This is why we have contingency planning,” she
said.


The funding argument is slowing agency efforts to fix date code, Grkavac said.


The fight is over basic principles, Dornan said. The conservatives don’t want to
create a potential slush fund, he said.


“They spilled blood—their blood—to impose some budget discipline,”
Dornan said. “There are some real, fundamental philosophical differences.”


Deller noted that even if the money were approved, agencies wouldn’t get to spend
it for another year.


“Whatever is in place now will or won’t work,” he said. “Congress
is waiting to give money to the agencies, but I think it will be too late.”

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