Shutdown Language Debated

Although key Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday they could compromise on a plan to guarantee the government won't shut down if Congress fails to pass agency appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year, GOP leaders remain unwilling to move as far as the Clinton administration wants.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters he might be willing to include a provision for an automatic continuing resolution lasting less than a full year if Congress does not complete its 13 appropriations bills. Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines agreed some short-term provision might be acceptable, but said the funding level would have to be set at the level agreed upon in the budget deal reached by Republicans and the administration -- a funding level Lott immediately rejected. The two sides also remain deadlocked over census language in the supplemental funding bill.

The continuing haggling came as Democrats turned up the heat on Republicans to pass the emergency relief supplemental, which contains the controversial ant-shutdown provisions, saying flood victims in the Dakotas and Minnesota desperately need the money and that Republicans should drop extraneous items from the bill.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., threatened to tie up the Senate if the bill is not passed immediately. "I'm going to use every bit of leverage I have," he said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D- N.D., added, "Politics as usual must now take a back seat to disaster relief."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he is "very sympathetic" to Wellstone's concerns, but said Lott has been helpful in trying to get the supplemental passed and that he does not want to "exacerbate" the situation.

Lott said he is hopeful the two camps can reach some agreement on the side issues this week. "We are willing to talk with the administration about what they find acceptable," he said, adding that GOP language prohibiting census sampling may be more difficult than the CR issue.

"The House feels very strongly [about] this," Lott said. If those two provisions cannot be resolved, he said, "my preference is to send it to the president." Lott said he is willing to examine proposals to limit the time an automatic CR would last, but added, "I don't think anything would be accomplished" by setting funding at the budget deal level. Raines said that funding level is vital, contending the CR plan is a "back door attempt to undo the budget deal."

Democrats reiterated they want all extraneous issues dropped.

"There is absolutely no justification for putting in this legislation irrelevant matters," House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., told reporters. Gephardt and Daschle today sent GOP leaders a letter requesting immediate consideration of a conference agreement.

Raines disputed notions that most of the disaster relief funds are available without passage of the supplemental, saying that housing, crop and livestock money cannot be spent until a conference agreement is approved.

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