Avoiding Another Shutdown

With the fiscal year drawing to a close at midnight Tuesday and few fiscal 1998 appropriations measures having reached the president's desk, one thing is certain about the week ahead on Capitol Hill: Congressional GOP leaders will be doing everything in their power to avoid another government shutdown.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to consider a continuing resolution early this week that would allow federal programs to continue through Oct. 23 even though they have no full-year appropriations.

Late last week, the CR almost got hung up on immigration issues in the House, but members finally gave unanimous consent to allow it to come to the floor without amendment today or early in the week. The CR funds programs at FY97 levels, except programs for which the administration sought reduced funding and Congress agreed with the cut. The appropriations situation is complicated by the schedule: It is a short week in both chambers because of the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

The current appropriations bills are in varying degrees of readiness and conference committees are expected to work early in the week to try to get them ready for floor action. And even when the bills are sent to President Clinton, they could face additional difficulty, since the administration is unhappy with provisions in several bills.

Both chambers have approved the Legislative Branch funding bill and it will be sent to Clinton shortly. Congress already has sent the president the Military Construction funding measure, and both chambers have approved the Defense appropriations conference report. The Agriculture funding measure is ready for the floor, but got hung up last week over FDA-related issues, which are still being worked out. The Commerce-Justice-State bill remains on the House floor and GOP leaders hope to pass it Tuesday; the Senate already has passed its version. The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the District of Columbia funding measure today and the Senate bill is ready for floor action.

The Energy and Water conference report is ready for floor action in both houses, appropriations aides said.

A conference on the Foreign Operations bill is scheduled for this week and conferees will have to confront the always difficult issue of family planning funds.

The two houses' versions of the Interior bill also will be in conference next week and the conferees will confront funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and funding for additional federal land acquisitions; the Senate provided funding for both, while the House did not.

The House last week, on a voice vote, approved a plan to instruct its conferees to accept $100 million for the NEA, much to the dismay of conservative Republican members.

The Labor-HHS funding conference began last week and will continue this week. Conferees face a myriad of issues.

The Senate bill calls for converting many federal elementary and secondary education programs into a block grant, while the House bill does not.

Democratic senators have threatened to filibuster any conference agreement that includes the block grant plan.

Conferees on the Transportation appropriations measure will meet this week, as will conferees on the Treasury-Postal bill. Those conferees must confront the congressional pay raise issue.

The Senate bill cancels a cost-of-living increase for members of Congress; the House rejected an attempt to add similar language.

The conferees also must settle difficult federal acquisition issues. VA-HUD conferees began meeting last week and will continue this week, and they must settle funding for the Americorps national service program, a Clinton priority, among other matters.

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