Supplemental Bill Foundering

House-Senate conferees late Wednesday at least temporarily abandoned efforts to reach an agreement on the existing House and Senate versions of the fiscal 1997 supplemental appropriations bill.

House Appropriations Chairman Robert Livingston, R-La., pulled the plug on the conference after all but one subcommittee chairman failed to report progress on their sections of the bill.

Livingston said that the conference may meet again today to consider "other options," on meeting needs created by flooding and other disasters this year.

Livingston told CongressDaily afterward that this may mean a bill providing only "essential funding."

With the White House still threatening a veto over the automatic continuing resolution and other provisions, conferees have been unable to resolve at least nine outstanding differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Earlier in the day, a House source said the bill could break apart over the automatic CR, a difference with the administration over census counting or a dispute over provisions overturning an Interior Department policy on highway rights-of-way on federal lands.

Livingston attempted to bring several sections of the bill to closure in a Wednesday afternoon session. But at each section, conferees raised objections.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, announced at the late session that the Clinton administration is proposing negotiations on rights-of-way to determine which ones are valid.

Stevens told reporters that he is pleased that the administration finally is agreeing to talk about the issue, rather than just standing by its position. An eventual agreement would be considered by the authorizing committees, he said.

House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, earlier said he does not want to hold up the bill over the matter and suggested it should be handled later, in the FY98 Interior appropriations bill.

Stevens, however, at that point contended the Interior Department position is unacceptable and must be changed now through the supplemental bill.

Among the issues that have been worked out, House conferees acceded to Senate language on granting a limited waiver from the Endangered Species Act, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid was one of the architects of the language adopted by the Senate.

More limited language approved by the House Appropriations Committee was struck on the House floor after Resources Chairman Young raised a point of order.

Earlier this week, the White House sent a letter to Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., saying the administration prefers the House Appropriations Committee language.

Conferees also resolved the dispute over whether to open the contract for paper used in printing currency to competitive bidding; Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., and Massachusetts' two senators had fought to protect a contract for the paper with Crane & Co. Inc., of Dalton, Mass.

The agreement strikes House language calling for immediate competition.

Instead, it requires Treasury to delay awarding the next four- year paper contract until the GAO completes a study on whether Crane has enjoyed a "sweetheart deal," said House Treasury Postal Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.

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