Supplemental Funding Bill Stalls

Senate Appropriations Chairman Stevens Tuesday postponed markup of the FY97 supplemental appropriations bill that had been scheduled for this morning, citing Democratic objections to four last-minute amendments offered by Appropriations Committee Republicans and members of the Senate leadership.

Stevens was apologetic in announcing the delay at this morning's session, conceding he had struck a previous agreement with Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., that "we would not have controversial amendments" in committee.

But Stevens added, "The current feeling of our leadership is [the amendments] should all be in the bill when it comes out of committee."

Byrd argued if the amendments -- all considered controversial -- are adopted in committee, it will "give an unfair advantage to proponents" because it would be more difficult to take those provisions out on the floor. Stevens later rescheduled the markup for Thursday. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Armey said today the House will not take up the supplemental appropriations bill until next week.

Byrd objected specifically to an amendment requested by Senate Commerce Chairman McCain creating a mechanism for a permanent continuing resolution when appropriations bills are not passed prior to the start of a fiscal year.

Funding would be triggered at 98 percent of the previous year's appropriation and would continue until Congress appropriates funds or the fiscal year ends.

Senate Minority Leader Daschle said Democratic staff are studying whether that amendment, which President Clinton has threatened to veto, would be subject to a point of order.

But Armey said if the Senate passed a supplemental with a permanent CR in it, the House would follow suit -- and doubted Clinton would veto it.

The other three Senate amendments at issue would change Census Bureau sampling procedures to ensure rural residents are not undercounted, return to states authority over federal rights-of-way on Western lands and prohibit use of funds to implement a proposed Clinton executive order on federal contracting (see related story).

Senate VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whose subpanel has charge of Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, said she considers it "outrageous that this markup was held up over partisan strategy."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he was not "overly alarmed," but added "any of the four amendments could prevent passage in a reasonable time period," meaning "real problems" for flood victims.

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