The Bush administration on Monday will unveil its budget request for Fiscal Year 2004, which begins October 1, even as legislators scramble to finish the budget for Fiscal Year 2003, which was supposed to have started four months ago. No one is predicting the Capitol Hill conferees will have an easy time of it since the House and Senate remain far apart on spending levels. And the new budget may well distract attention desperately needed to complete the long-overdue 2003 spending package.

"There's no question this is going to be very difficult," said Pat White, director of legislative relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). "There's a wide disparity in terms of funding and priorities."

The most optimistic congressional staffers believe conferees can finish in time for the President's Day recess starting Feb. 14, said Bob Palmer, minority staff director for the House Science Committee....

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