Spending Takes Center Stage

House and Senate efforts to pass a supplemental spending bill, which have been nagged by a string of major and minor disputes, and the resumption of high-level budget talks are expected to be the main events over the next week on Capitol Hill.

While House leaders, as of late last week, still had the FY97 emergency supplemental scheduled for floor action in mid-week, the GOP leadership may allow the vote on the spending bill to slip until next week, as fiscal conservatives keep up the drum beat to limit any new spending in the bill and make sure it is paid for without adding to the deficit. The conservatives also want to see that it includes items such as an automatic continuing resolution provision and language to set a date for U.S. troops to leave Bosnia.

The $8.4 billion bill includes $752.2 million in mandatory spending, mostly for veterans programs; $5.5 billion for disaster relief, up from $5.2 billion in the original package; $2 billion for peacekeeping operations and reimbursement of Pentagon funds depleted by the Bosnia mission; and $103.5 million in non-emergency supplemental appropriations, including money for the Postal Service and the Federal Election Commission.

The supplemental bill will not go forward in the House without at least a few hangups. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Shuster, for one, has written to House Rules Chairman Solomon asking that the rule for debate permit the filing of points of order against provisions of the spending bill. Shuster has said he wants to bring a point of order against provisions that would rescind more than $1 billion in unobligated contract authority from the highway, mass transit and aviation trust funds to help pay for the bill, according to an aide. Because the Appropriations Committee lacks the jurisdiction to create contract spending authority for these accounts, which represent mandatory rather than discretionary spending, it cannot rescind that authority, the Shuster aide said.

And another wrinkle emerged Friday, with Resources Chairman Young informing Speaker Gingrich he intends to raise a point of order against the bill.

In a letter to Gingrich, Young said he is objecting to provisions approved by the House Appropriations Committee that would exempt repairs to flood control projects damaged by floods this year from Endangered Species Act requirements through 1998.

The provisions were softened between subcommittee and full committee markup in the Appropriations panel.

Young, whose committee last week approved a permanent ESA exemption for flood control projects, complained that while Resources ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., and House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., were consulted about the language, he was not consulted.

Boehlert's panel has no jurisdiction over the ESA, Young argued.

Sources said the House leadership gave Young the go-ahead to lodge his point of order, and that the provisions will be dropped from the supplemental measure.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee is set Tuesday to mark up the supplemental bill and a committee spokesman said floor action is targeted for Wednesday.

The bill is not likely to include provisions for an automatic continuing resolution to prevent another government shutdown, the spokesman said, but an amendment may be offered in committee or on the floor for an automatic CR.

On the House side, Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., is considering offering an amendment to authorize an automatic continuing resolution to fund the government at 98 percent of the previous year's appropriations level if new appropriations legislation is not enacted by the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

Whether Gekas does so, an aide said, largely depends on whether the Senate is likely to pass an identical amendment that Senate Commerce Chairman McCain and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R- Texas, plan to offer when the supplemental goes to that chamber's floor.

Although the House may not be inclined to vote for an automatic CR, House Majority Leader Armey last week said the leadership "intends to have a final conference product with [an automatic CR] in it."

Meanwhile, two agriculture- and food-related issues are likely to be contentious as the supplemental spending bill moves through the House and Senate.

The Clinton administration asked for a $100 million increase in the Women, Infants and Children food program, but under congressional pressure cut that request to $76 million.

However, Republican appropriators added only $38 million to the bill, calling that amount sufficient to meet the program's needs in 1997.

Several liberal organizations and their Capitol Hill allies already are gearing up for a brawl over this funding.

And members of the House Agriculture Committee and the administration are expected to oppose bitterly a 14 million acre cap on enrollments in the land idling Conservation Reserve Program.

The House Appropriations Committee added the cap in order to persuade Agriculture Secretary Glickman to make a greater effort to get farmers on the East and West Coasts to enroll land in the program.

But in a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Livingston, Glickman said he finds the cap "highly objectionable" since the Agriculture Department has not yet completed analysis of the bids farmers made in a signup March 28.

Another complication involves the undertaking by 11 House GOP rebels to strip "pork" from the supplemental.

Rep. Mark Neumann, R-Wis., who has played a central role in the efforts of nearly a dozen rebel Republicans to limit funding for House committees and the supplemental bill, intends to offer amendments on floor. However, an aide said Friday that Neumann had not made any final decision on his floor strategy.

At last Thursday's Appropriations Committee markup, Neumann offered a substitute amendment and an amendment to eliminate funding for Capitol Hill elevator operators; both were defeated.

And Rep. Van Hilleary, R-Tenn., is coordinating the effort to offer an amendment based on legislation introduced by House Budget Chairman Kasich, House National Security Chairman Spence, Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., and Hilleary to force U.S. troops to leave Bosnia by the end of FY97 unless the president requests and Congress approves a 90-day extension.

While the maneuvering continues on the supplemental appropriations bill, budget negotiations between the White House and Congress are expected to resume this week, with both sides having expressed hope that they can proceed with the kind of bipartisanship that permeated last week's passage of the chemical weapons treaty.

"I think we will work in the coming days to build on that type of bipartisanship that we saw during consideration of the convention," White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry said.

The talks were put on hold for several days last week while President Clinton met privately with congressional Democrats, who stepped up their pressure on Republicans to produce a counter offer.

Senate Majority Leader Lott confirmed Friday that Republicans put an offer on the table that included a gross tax cut of $150 billion and Medicare savings of $125 billion.

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