Republican leaders are lashing out at the Clinton administration for playing down the Year 2000 bug, establishing a new congressional committee and a plan to seek $4 billion in emergency spending to fix the technology problem.
This weekend House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly criticized the White House for dropping the ball on the issue, saying that the administration is presiding over "a large wreck" set to take place on January 1, 2000.
Gingrich made his comments during a news conference at a celebration of his 55th birthday, just one day after House Republicans leaders agreed on a plan to pay nearly $4 billion to repair government computers before the so-called millennium bug strikes.
In a victory for fiscal conservatives, the leaders Friday agreed to cut other government programs to pay for the costly computer fix rather than tack the money onto next year's budget.
"We solved the problem," Rep. Mark Neumann said, referring to the battle over funding needed to fix Y2K issues. The Wisconsin Republican fought last week to hold government spending within the limits set in last year's historic five-year balanced budget deal.
The plan would remove emergency spending provisions from this year's defense and Treasury spending bills, as well as offer the entire $3.85 billion package to the House as a separate emergency measure.
By creating the emergency appropriations, the bug fix can be financed by cutting money from the fiscal 1999 domestic and defense programs rather than use part of the anticipated budget surplus.
Neumann said that if the procedure was not changed, the "barn door" would have opened for an onslaught of emergency spending plans over the budget caps.
"The debate is not about the computers, but whether we should classify this as emergency spending and break caps and spend the surplus," Neumann said.
Gingrich has also appointed Reps. Steve Horn (R-California) and Connie Morella (R-Maryland) as co-chairs of a newly formed task force to address the Year 2000 problem. The task force be the counterpart to the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem chaired by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and vice-chaired by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut).
"Long before 'Y2K' was making headlines, Steve Horn and Connie Morella were holding hearings and sounding the alarm on the impending Year 2000 computer crisis," Gingrich said in a statement Friday. "While the administration's lack of attention to this critical issue has put many federal information technology systems at risk, I am confident that the Task Force can help significantly reduce the damage caused by the millennium bug."
Although calls to the press offices of the White House, the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, and Vice President Gore were not returned, members of the Senate Democratic leadership over the weekend dismissed the Republican moves as repeats to what they had already done months before.
As reported in May, Senate Democrats and Republicans worked Y2K-related money into the fiscal 1999 budget. The funding includes part or all of a $3.2 billion pool of money set aside for unanticipated contingency costs to cover anything from military expenditures or the Year 2000 bug.
It also includes a $2.25 billion emergency reserve fund created by the Senate Appropriations Committee that agencies can tap for fixing computer systems plagued by the millennium bug.
In related news, a House technology subcommittee chaired by Rep. Horn today is holding a hearing "to examine practical solutions to the Year 2000 computer problem," according to a statement. The subcommittee is looking at the highest priority problems, from a national point of view, and most practical solutions to fix them.
Contrary to earlier reports, Gingrich won't be speaking with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) on the matter today. According to Gingrich's deputy press secretary, the two GOP leaders will meet later in the week to discuss their party's next moves on the Y2K issue.
Reuters contributed to this report.