Sponsors of the 2002 election overhaul are pressuring President Bush to actively support their effort to get states all the money Congress promised to meet the law's new standards.
It was one year ago Wednesday that Bush signed the overhaul into law (PL 107-252), and House sponsors Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., marked the occasion by urging the president to back full funding for the measure this year — one year earlier than authorized in the law.
That would require Congress to appropriate about $2.4 billion for the new fiscal year. The law is popular, but only Bush can give appropriators the blessing to go above the $786 billion discretionary spending ceiling for this year, they said.
"The White House absolutely needs to be fully engaged," said Ney, who chairs the House Administration Committee. "We need to do this now."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Wednesday evening that he supports getting some additional money to the states this year. But given the budget cap, he said, Bush would have to sign off for it to have "a ghost of a chance of happening."
Ney and Hoyer said it will only get harder to find the money in the future. And even if states cannot spend it all next year, providing full funding now will give them the confidence to move ahead with buying new equipment and making other changes under the law, they said.
Former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, who headed a task force to study the voting problems in the 2000 elections, also sent Bush a letter urging him to back full funding this year.
The White House did not provide a comment about the lawmakers' request.
The troubled 2000 vote, which marred Bush's election to the White House, is a sore subject for the president, and he sat on the sidelines throughout the ensuing debate about overhauling the system.
The election law authorized nearly $3.9 billion in federal aid over three years. Its sponsors say Congress would have to appropriate nearly $1.6 billion for fiscal 2004 to stay on track to provide the full authorization at the end of the three years.
On Oct. 23, the Senate added $1 billion to the Transportation-Treasury spending bill (HR 2989) on top of $500 million already in the measure. But the money would bust the fiscal 2004 budget cap Bush is trying to enforce — something House Republicans have been reluctant to do.
Meanwhile, the Senate is poised to take an important step toward implementing the law. The Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing Oct. 28 on four nominees to the new Election Assistance Commission, which is to distribute federal aid and help states meet the standards. The committee expects to send the nominees to the Senate floor for confirmation soon.
The GOP nominees to the commission are Paul S. DeGregorio and DeForest B. Soaries Jr., and the Democratic nominees are Ray Martinez and Gracia Hillman.