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Energy, Water budget passes House

By By SONNY CALLAHAN
U.S. Representative
During the past six years, when I chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, there was always a question as to whether we'd get the 218 votes needed to pass the bill. Out of 435 members of Congress, you have to have at least 218 votes, or one more than half, to pass any piece of legislation.
To this day, "foreign aid" remains one of the more controversial expenditures of our federal tax dollars.  
Some people passionately support assistance to foreign countries; many more do not.
Therefore, I always breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the debate on the foreign ops bills; most were contentious, to put it mildly.  Many of the debates sometimes turned downright personal.
This year, however, when my subcommittee chairman assignment became Energy and Water Development, I thought things were going to be a bit easier.
Who, after all, doesn't support funds being spent in our own country, especially for popular civil works projects such as flood control, shoreline protection and navigation, all of which yield tremendous economic benefits for the entire nation?
In some respects, I was right.  The vote last week, 405-15, was a pretty significant victory.
But the work to get us to this point was, interestingly enough, sometimes pretty tricky.
For starters, the Bush administration initially sent Congress a budget request that was far below what was absolutely necessary.  Quite frankly, had the earlier budget numbers prevailed, I dare say my first energy and water bill would have likely gone down to a resounding defeat.
To be fair, this wasn't the administration's fault. By getting a late start putting together his administration, the president and his top aides did an admirable job making tough budgetary decisions in a matter of days that previous administrations enjoyed weeks and months to make.
While the president proposed an overall growth of four percent in federal spending, the accounts for the Department of Energy and the Corps of Engineers, the two agencies whose principle funding comes from my bill, were initially cut three percent and 14 percent, respectively.
So I went to work to get the House leadership to support my request of the Office of Management and Budget to allow us to return the spending levels for Fiscal Year 2002 to approximately what we spent last year.
Not a four percent increase, as most of the other agencies experienced mind you, but a modest half of one percent.  The bill reflects the importance of these programs not only to the individual members of Congress but, more importantly, to the American people.
Thanks to the fact we now have an administration that will work with Congress, and not against us, our efforts prevailed. While there were certain concessions both the House and the White House made over our initial goals, I am pleased to report this bill will be a strong bet to win the president's signature after the House and Senate reach a final compromise bill.
Was managing my first energy and water bill more fun than my first foreign ops bill?  Not necessarily.  
But it was a rewarding experience, filled with lots of good lessons. Hopefully, the American people will be well served.
Honoring our nation
Last week marked the 225th anniversary of the birth of the United States.  While this may not seem like a long life for a country n particularly when compared to ancient Rome or Egypt n it is staggering to remember that the United States is the oldest continuous democratic nation on earth.
The preservation of this nation has certainly not been easy.  With the recent release of the epic movie "Pearl Harbor," we have again been reminded of the sacrifices that we as Americans have made during this nation's history.
Men and women, children and adults, and people of all nationalities and backgrounds have made significant contributions to the preservation of this "child of the revolution."
On this July 4th, in the midst of the picnics, baseball games and fireworks, we should all have taken a moment to consider what it took for us as a nation to reach this birthday.
Take a moment to look at our flag and reflect on the importance of each star and each stripe.  When you read the newspaper or watch the evening news, think of the precious freedom of speech that our forefathers fought to guarantee.  Tell a veteran "thank you" for his or her service.
Taken individually, these simple gestures may not seem like much. However, it's been the gestures n both little and big n that, when combined, helped make this nation great.
Until next week, take care and God Bless.