Congress's Home Stretch

It's now up to the appropriators whether House and Senate Republican leaders actually can pull off their ambitious plan to wrap up the 104th Congress by the end of this week. The leaders summed up their goal late last week in a statement, saying, "We believe Congress should complete its business and adjourn."

The official target adjournment date is Friday, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, declared on the House floor late last week, "Call me optimistic, but it is still our hope that we may be able to conclude by that day." At the same time, Armey warned that the "prudent member" should be prepared to stay in town Saturday, noting legislators should "brace ourselves for our usual hectic pace" in the push toward sine die adjournment.

The question of whether the goal can be met depends on the ability of appropriators and the White House to reach agreement on the massive FY97 omnibus appropriations measure this week. With FY97 starting next Tuesday, the package will combine those of the 13 individual FY97 appropriations bills not yet completed.

The FY97 Commerce-Justice-State, Interior, Labor-HHS and Treasury-Postal appropriations measures are expected to be included with the FY97 Defense appropriations conference agreement, the likely vehicle for the large spending bill. The omnibus spending measure also may include the FY97 Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which has been hung up over family planning funds. The House is slated to consider the FY97 VA-HUD appropriations conference agreement today, with the Senate to follow shortly after. President Clinton is expected to sign that bill separately.

While appropriators and administration officials have expressed hopes of cutting the deal on the omnibus appropriations measure as early as mid-week, appropriations aides Monday cautioned that the bill may not be filed until Thursday or Friday. Under that scenario, the House would consider the omnibus package Friday, with the Senate to take it up Friday or Saturday.

Senate floor debate, however, possibly may begin before the bill actually is filed.

The expectation is that what is referred to as a "martial law" resolution will be pushed through the House in order to allow last-minute consideration of measures under special expedited procedures, such as suspension of the rules.

House and Senate GOP appropriations negotiators Monday continued meeting with their Democratic counterparts and White House staff to try to reach agreement on the omnibus appropriations measure. Negotiators split into groups to try to come together at the subcommittee levels.

Administration officials last week reaffirmed they need $6.5 billion in additional spending to sign off on an agreement, and Republican leaders seemed inclined to give the administration most, if not all, of the money it wants.

The White House last Friday submitted a new list of funding requests to restore specific cuts in the appropriations process, and over the weekend sent up another emergency supplemental request to provide $290 million to mop up the devastation caused by Hurricane Fran.

Members and staff were seeking offsets to cover the cost of that package. House Appropriations Chairman Livingston remains adamant about not dipping into defense funds to pay for any of the administration's proposed add-backs, but will consider using some defense funds to help pay for the president's $1.1 billion emergency supplemental for counterterrorism efforts, GOP aides said Monday.

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