When Anne K. Bingaman arrived as the Clinton administration’s first antitrust chief, in 1993, she used to joke in her speeches about the bright side of stepped-up enforcement at the Justice Department. In her Arizona twang, she’d say that she was just trying to help antitrust lawyers put their kids through college.

The Clinton administration is still doing its part. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2001, released on Feb. 7, seeks sharp increases in funding for antitrust regulators. It asks for a 22 percent hike, to $134 million, for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and a 30 percent hike, to $165 million, for the Federal Trade Commission, which shares merger review with Justice and handles consumer protection. To pay for the increases, the budget supports a hike in merger filing fees — a plan that may draw fire from consumer groups because it mimics Republican efforts already under way in Congress.