Showdown on Supplemental Bill

Setting themselves up for a showdown with President Clinton, Republicans on a House-Senate conference committee late Wednesday returned to both chambers a disaster relief supplemental spending bill that still contains provisions likely to provoke a presidential veto.

While no formal vote was taken, Democratic conferees from both chambers made clear they would not sign the conference report because extraneous provisions that have caused weeks of wrangling over the bill were not stripped out.

Both houses are likely to vote on the supplemental spending bill today.

The House Rules Committee Wednesday night passed a procedural measure allowing the rule for the supplemental to come to the floor today.

The rule on debate for the budget resolution also was approved and comes to the floor at 12:30 p.m. today.

Sources said the administration has clearly indicated the president intends to quickly veto the supplemental bill and that both chambers then are likely to consider a supplemental spending package that does not contain the contentious side issues.

If, as expected, Clinton vetoes the measure, appropriators plan to consider the stripped down version almost immediately.

"We will take appropriate action and send another bill to the president by Tuesday," House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., said.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., added: "I think this bill is on a one-way route to futility. The sooner we get rid of it, the better."

The $8.6 billion bill contains $5.4 billion in emergency disaster assistance for several states, particularly the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Democrats have been angry over the failure of Republicans to pass a clean supplemental bill and had intended to keep the Senate in session all night Wednesday.

However the Senate passed a motion to adjourn shortly before 5 p.m.

Discussing the supplemental bill, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told CongressDaily the Republicans "are making a very big mistake. The lives of thousands of people are on hold because [Republicans] are being insensitive."

Dorgan had asked the conferees to approve two versions of the bill, one with the side issues attached and one with them deleted. But Republicans refused.

The supplemental spending bill still contains a House provision for an automatic continuing resolution in case Congress does not finish work on appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year.

It also contains language barring the Census Bureau from using sampling for the 2000 census, a provision that almost was deleted Wednesday.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., asked conferees to approve Senate language that simply would have prohibited the Census Bureau from taking any irreversible action to require sampling.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., announced his intention to support the Hollings plan.

Since Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, had supported the Hollings plan in committee, Hollings appeared to have the votes to pass his plan.

However, at the last minute, Hutchison supported the House position, leading to the defeat of the Hollings plan on the Senate side by a vote of 15-13.

Hutchison acknowledged that many Republicans, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, a fellow Texan, had talked to her about changing her position.

"Everyone on God's earth was looking for me," Hutchison said, following a recess in the conference meeting.

Hutchison said Armey had told her the supplemental bill might be defeated in the House if the census plan was not included.

She said she did not want to see the supplemental bill stalled because of her position.

"In the scheme of things, I did not consider it worthy of being a deal-breaker," she said.

House Republicans feel particularly strong about barring sampling in the census, fearing what impact it might have on apportionment of House seats based on the 2000 census.

The conferees also approved a compromise plan that appropriates an additional $694 million in federal highway funds.

The Senate had included an additional $933 million and the House bill called for $318 million.

On the contentious issue of building roads through federal lands, the conferees approved a compromise plan to establish a commission to review outstanding claims of rights-of-way across federal property.

Meanwhile, senators were stymied in their effort to keep the Senate in session all night in a bid to highlight the need for a fast disaster relief bill.

Majority Leader Lott moved to adjourn the Senate, a motion that was approved on a roll call vote, rather than allow the Democrats to proceed.

Following the vote, an angry Senate Minority Leader Daschle told reporters that Democrats were "extraordinarily disappointed" by the vote.

"We had more than enough members of our caucus to stay all night," he said.

Daschle made it clear that Democrats do not intend to block passage of the supplemental bill, in an effort to allow Congress to quickly consider a modified version.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was blunt in her criticism, charging the Republicans "are shutting down the Senate the same way they shut down the government."

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