Budget's Sticking Points

With the House Budget Committee scheduled to mark up its fiscal 1998 budget resolution Wednesday, negotiators were struggling today to settle final problems, ranging from spending issues to firewalls between defense and domestic spending.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said there has been "a substantial degree of progress" in recent days. Negotiators were scheduled to meet again this afternoon to ensure there is sufficient agreement to allow the markup to take place.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the administration has tried to "push the envelope" on spending. "There are areas in which they would like more spending than we would," Lott said, adding the administration also is trying to place limits on the tax cut bill that will be passed as part of the deal.

In addition, a source said Democrats want firewalls to be constructed between defense and domestic spending for two years, while Republicans are pushing for five years.

Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he hopes today's session will be the last one needed to finish the agreement. He said negotiators will try to ensure there is an agreement on children's health programs and SSI benefits for disabled elderly people. He said the tax cuts will be outlined in an addendum to the budget resolution, while the resolution itself will identify high-priority programs. He added there has been some dispute over exactly how much is necessary to spell out in the deal. Domenici said he hopes his panel can mark up the resolution Thursday.

Daschle said he intends to support the budget resolution based on the negotiations, but conceded the magnitude of House Democratic support will be based on whether House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., is satisfied.

Daschle said Democrats are reserving the right to support amendments to the budget resolution, saying he would support a plan to restore funds for school construction. He said, however, that Democratic and GOP leaders may unite to fight any amendments that would make substantial changes to the budget agreement.

Daschle also said he believes the announcement of a deal was premature. "There may have been a rush to make this announcement before all the details were nailed down," he said. "There was a great deal of euphoria that we had reached an agreement of this magnitude."

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