Omnibus Spending Bill Coming

With the exception of the FY97 VA-HUD funding measure, the Senate will abandon efforts to pass further individual FY97 appropriations measures and instead will concentrate on writing an omnibus spending bill that will provide about $6 billion requested by the Clinton administration, Republican leaders said today.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said having appropriators on the Senate floor managing bills would hamper efforts to negotiate with the House and with the Democrats on details of the omnibus spending measure, which GOP leaders hope to bring to the floor next week. "We've got to focus on that," Lott said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., said the VA-HUD bill will come to the floor separately, but that House and Senate appropriators on the outstanding bills -- the Labor-HHS, Commerce-Justice- State, Interior and Treasury-Postal measures -- will try to reach informal agreements to form the basis for negotiations with the White House. House Appropriations Chairman Robert Livingston, R-La., said he expects the omnibus measure will provide "a little over $6 billion" of the $6.5 billion the administration wants. "Chances are the president is going to get a lot of what he's asked for," Livingston said. "That is in the best interest of getting out of here."

Lott also said he does not see strong objections in the Senate to paying for additional spending the administration wants through spectrum auctions and the Bank Insurance Fund-Savings Association Insurance Fund legislation. Lott explained the CBO has said the two provisions would provide enough money to address administration spending desires. A House Republican aide said today that, depending on which versions of the proposals are used, the bank fees and spectrum auction will raise about $5 billion of the $6.5 billion the administration wants for additional spending.

Meanwhile, appropriators are beginning to examine the spending wish list sent to them by administration officials Wednesday. Livingston said Appropriations subcommittee chairmen are starting meetings with ranking members and the Senate to discuss possible funding levels for key programs. "In Louisiana, you start a gumbo with a rue," he said as a way of indicating the process is just beginning. However, he added, "I'm still optimistic we'll be out of here on time."

However, Senate Democrats again threatened to keep Congress in session unless they receive a vote on their $3.2 billion education funding amendment. The Democrats are arguing that a GOP education amendment is some $800 million short of what is needed for education, job training and Head Start programs. "We're not going anywhere until the schools are adequately funded," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said, later adding that "the Republican solution, so far, is unacceptable."

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