Spending: No Done Deals

More budget negotiations, a disaster relief bill moving under a veto threat, comp-time/flex-time legislation and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act dominate this week's agenda on Capitol Hill.

Talks are expected to resume on the details of the balanced budget agreement that was struck May 2, and that subsequently bogged down in bickering over a myriad of details, ranging from education tax cuts to transportation spending. The drawn-out bargaining over what the budget agreement actually contains could have an impact on when House and Senate Budget panels mark up their fiscal 1998 spending blueprints.

Late last week, the Senate Budget Committee was still scheduled to mark up its resolution Tuesday, with the House panel marking up its version Wednesday. The resolutions could go to the floor this week, if the committees finish their work.

Negotiations over funding contained in the budget deal for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act also will continue this week between the House GOP leadership and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa. Shuster met with Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Budget Committee aides last Thursday to request more money for ISTEA reauthorization.

But Shuster is running into resistance from Budget Committee members who are reluctant to change the framework of the budget deal with President Clinton. Budget Committee aides this past weekend were considering Shuster's proposal, and are expected to touch base with him early this week.

Meanwhile, the White House and congressional Republicans are expected to resume talks over the so-called "automatic" continuing resolution that the Senate passed as part of its $8.4 billion emergency supplemental spending package.

Clinton has threatened to veto a supplemental bill containing the CR provision unless it is funded at the same levels that were approved as part of the new balanced budget agreement. The House will grapple with the CR issue when it turns to the supplemental spending bill Wednesday or Thursday.

The supplemental comes before the Rules Committee Tuesday. Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., is expected to introduce a CR amendment when the spending bill hits the floor.

A spokesman for Gekas said late last week that Gekas "has no problem" with a CR that funds agencies at 100 percent of their FY97 funding level, although he may offer a series of amendments with different funding levels when the supplemental bill comes before the Rules panel.

Senate Republicans originally pushed for a CR that would fund agencies at only 98 percent of their FY97 appropriation, but in the end approved a CR provision that would fund programs at 100 percent of the FY97 figure.

The House Appropriations Committee did not include the CR provision in the bill it reported out last week, but the Gekas proposal has the backing of the House Republican leadership.

The automatic CR is seen in GOP circles as a safeguard against future government shutdowns of the sort that Clinton converted to his political advantage in 1995-1996.

But many Democrats believe an automatic CR would reduce the pressure on congressional Republicans to negotiate over individual portions of the 13 annual appropriations bills, because a failure to reach agreement on the spending measures would result in an automatic freeze of spending at FY97 levels.

Meanwhile, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this week will continue its speedy trip through Congress.

The Senate will take up the IDEA bill today, and a final vote is expected Tuesday. The House will consider IDEA under suspension of the rules on Tuesday.

Because the House and Senate education committees worked on the bill together, the two versions in each chamber are identical. If they are passed without amendment in both houses, the legislation will be sent directly to Clinton without going to a conference committee.

But Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., plans to offer an amendment during Senate debate that would set specific authorization funding targets.

Members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee have refused to set specific funding targets for the next several years until they see how the reformed IDEA works.

But supporters of the amendment believe the reformed IDEA cannot work well without additional funding.

Gregg's amendment would set a target of raising IDEA's FY98 funding by $1 billion to $4.1 billion, then add $1.5 billion more each year to reach total federal annual funding of $13.1 billion by FY2004.

Gregg also is working in the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee to get the appropriations to meet those targets.

Senate debate on the compensatory time bill, which began Friday, will be interrupted today and Tuesday for consideration of the IDEA bill.

But debate on the comp time bill is expected to resume for the remainder the week, and amendments are expected to be considered.

Republicans believe the comp time bill can help address their political problems with women voters.

The bill is strongly opposed by organized labor.

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