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Bills in a state of flux

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By Roger Snodgrass

Hopes of bridging an appropriations impasse in Washington, D.C., took a turn for the worse Monday, deepening the budget uncertainty for federal agencies, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.A spokesman in Sen. Pete Domenici’s office said this morning that everything was in a state of flux.Domenici is the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the Department of Energy funding.Chris Gallegos, the senator’s communications director, said the committee had been making progress, including restoring “most of what the House tried to do in terms of cuts.”The House version of the appropriations bill passed several months ago with deep cuts in the laboratory’s budget.“Last night everything hit the wall,” Gallegos said.The Associated Press and others reported Monday that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Ill.) threatened to abandon an attempted compromise package that was originally scheduled for debate today.With 11 of 12 appropriations bills yet to be passed and time running out at the end of this week on the current stopgap funding resolution for most of the federal government, Congress and the White House remain at odds.Democratic leaders began work last week on an omnibus spending bill that provided funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timetable for withdrawal. Their proposal also included an $11 billion reduction in proposed spending.But White House budget director Jim Nussle said last week that the new proposal faced a veto for exceeding President Bush’s spending limits.The AP reported that Nussle accused Democrats of “trying to leverage troop-funding for more pork-barrel spending.” Obey said it was just the opposite, that the president was willing to relent a little on domestic spending in order to get money for the war.“It is extraordinary that the president would request an 11-percent increase for the Department of Defense, a 12-percent increase for foreign aid, and $195 billion of emergency funding for the war, while asserting that a 4.7-percent increase for domestic programs is fiscally irresponsible,” said Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.), Obey’s counterpart in the Senate, on Monday.“I don’t see how we have any choice but to go to the president’s numbers on appropriations to make clear that we aren’t going to link the war with token funding on the domestic side,” Obey told AP Monday.Included in a new round of cuts would be earmarks, or pet projects, specifically inserted in the appropriations bills by lawmakers in both parties.Los Alamos National Laboratory has begun to lay employees off, with the first group of voluntary departures scheduled to separate Jan. 10. The laboratory reported that about 450 have volunteered, out of the 500-750 employees the laboratory has targeted for the reductions. Employees who volunteered to leave have until Thursday to change their mind.Phase two of the lab’s program will designate employees for involuntary separation. A phase three was included in the restructuring plan to deal with any further negative consequences of the appropriations process.Gallegos said that while negotiators for the appropriations subcommittee could not stop the current lay-offs, they were trying to avoid future reductions.The previous omnibus spending bill did not pass the House until Jan. 31, 2007.