Budget Bills Dominate Congress

With a budget agreement finally in hand, Congress this week will move quickly to convert the plan into a budget resolution and pass it through each chamber.

The Senate Budget Committee will mark up its version of the plan at 4 p.m. today, while the House Rules Committee will consider the House resolution today. The House Budget Committee swiftly cleared the bill Friday, defeating every Democratic amendment and ultimately passing the measure by a 31-7 vote.

"I think it's a great time when Republicans and Democrats can agree on more than they disagree on," said House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio. And House Budget ranking member John Spratt, D-S.C., added, "We were not so fixated on eliminating the deficit that we forgot that Americans have other problems."

The resolution could be on both the House and Senate floors Tuesday. GOP leaders said they hope it can be passed quickly, allowing a House-Senate conference committee to write a conference report in time for both chambers to approve it before Congress adjourns for the Memorial Day recess later this week.

The White House and congressional GOP leaders have warned that the process is only just beginning, and that the agreement still faces potentially damaging sniping from the left and the right. And, although the committees of jurisdiction are weeks away from hearings on their portions of the budget framework, the positioning and planning will intensify this week in each chamber's tax-writing, transportation and other committees.

The struggle to divide the tax-cut pie among advocates of a per-child tax credit, estate tax relief and capital gains cuts poses one of the thorniest problems for members attempting to implement the budget deal. The apportioning of new transportation money among states, and between roads and other parts of the transportation system, also will pose a major challenge.

Other crucial issues are coming to a head, as well. The White House this week is expected to respond in some way to the challenge from House Ways and Means Chairman Archer to get moving on legislation granting fast track trade negotiating authority.

And behind-the-scenes discussions on environmental issues, including solid waste flow control, are expected to intensify.

House and Senate conferees also will be meeting Tuesday to work out agreement on the FY97 emergency supplemental appropriations bill.

Both chambers included an automatic continuing resolution provision in their bills, saying that in the event the 13 appropriations bill are not completed by the end of the fiscal year, programs will be funded at 100 percent of the FY97 level.

However, President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill unless the automatic CR funds programs at the FY98 levels that were part of the budget agreement.

Further negotiations with the White House over the automatic CR are expected.

Conferees also must fill a $1.7 billion hole in financing for the supplemental, created when a point of order was raised against a series of offsetting spending cuts to transportation programs.

House Appropriations Chairman Livingston has pledged to find offsets for the $1.7 billion during the conference.

In addition, conferees must decide on language included in the Senate version of the bill, but not the House version, to overturn Interior Department regulations on local highway rights- of-way on federal lands.

The Senate bill also includes a limited waiver of Endangered Species Act requirements for flood control projects damaged by floods in 1996 and 1997.

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