The senator says an extra $18 million for Paducah plant cleanup will be difficult to approve because of the Democratic control in Senate.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
"The problem is the Democratically controlled Senate," he said Thursday during a telephone news conference with Kentucky reporters. "Even though the president requested it, everyone is going to be fighting for a piece of the pie."
The proposal is in a supplemental spending plan for fiscal year 2001 that President George W. Bush delivered to Congress this week. He wants to release $18 million from the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund, according to documents filed with the budget.
"The additional funding requested would continue progress in addressing recently identified environmental, safety and health issues at the Paducah plant," Bush said in the proposal.
The supplemental budget asks for an additional $5.6 billion in spending this year. McConnell predicted that senators will try to redirect funds in all categories for pet projects. Recommendations from Bush that don't have widespread congressional support are likely to be targets for elimination.
McConnell said if approved, the $18 million will be used for wastewater treatment and general cleanup. It would be added to the more than $100 million allocated for Paducah when the budget was approved last fall.
Emphasis on increasing funding for the Paducah plant began two years ago under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, after his energy secretary, Bill Richardson, acknowledged there were serious environmental problems that could affect the heath of workers and nearby residents.
McConnell also said he and other members of Kentucky's congressional delegation have met with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who has promised to make Paducah cleanup a priority. Cleanup funding in the next budget at the very least will match this year's funding, McConnell said.
On another topic, McConnell said it is likely he'll retain his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee under organizational rules being negotiated with Democrats who took control of the Senate this week.
The Judiciary Committee controls presidential appointments to federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Influence on that committee is important to Republicans who want to add more conservative judges to the courts.
McConnell heads a group of five Republican senators who are negotiating the organizational rules with Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the new majority leader. Calling the discussions cordial and congenial, McConnell predicted there would be an agreement by next week.
Under rules adopted in January when the Democrat-Republican split was 50-50, each committee was chaired by a Republican and had an equal number of members from each party.
McConnell said the plan being discussed with Daschle is to keep all Republicans on the committees and add one Democrat to give them the majority. Democrats also would chair the committees.
Kentucky's senior senator also said that the tax cut bill signed by Bush on Thursday included a provision he drafted to make earnings in pre-paid tuition savings accounts 100 percent tax-free.
It is called the Setting Aside for a Valuable Education (SAVE) Act. McConnell attended the White House ceremony in which Bush signed the tax cut bill.
McConnell said he had been working for seven years to pass the plan.