Congress returns to spending disputes

Congress returns this week from the Easter recess, and GOP leaders immediately will be confronted by a myriad of questions surrounding supplemental spending for disaster relief, defense, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

"There will have to be a lot of meetings early in the week," one House Republican aide said.

The House and Senate have passed vastly different supplemental appropriations bills, and each of the differences represents a hot-button issue that could provoke intraparty squabbles and interchamber feuding. "There will be leadership meetings," one House Republican leadership aide said.

As passed by the House, the disaster relief and defense bill would be offset by $2.9 billion in cuts from domestic discretionary programs. The Senate bill does not contain offsets, and Senate Republicans have said firewalls between defense and domestic spending make their ability to pay for the bills through domestic cuts extremely dicey.

The House Republican leadership aide said the offset issue remains unclear, while insisting the House will not abandon its position that the spending be offset. The Senate voted overwhelmingly not to include offsets.

In addition, the Senate disaster relief and defense bill included more than $17 billion for the IMF. The House bill did not contain the funding.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has said he wants the conference on the disaster-defense bill to discuss the IMF funding, but the House Republican leadership aide said that is impossible, since the House has not yet passed its IMF bill. The Senate overwhelmingly voted to include the IMF funding in the bill.

Aides said other critical questions also remain unanswered, including:

  • Will the House continue to insist on domestic discretionary offsets that President Clinton has said make the bill veto bait? Among the proposed cuts is a $275 million cut from the administration's national service initiative.
  • When will the House consider the IMF-U.N. bill, and what is its relationship to the State Department reauthorization bill? The reauthorization bill bans federal funds from going to international family planning programs that lobby on abortion.
  • If Clinton were to veto the State Department bill, how would the House handle the IMF-U.N. bill? Many House Republicans have said they are not pleased with the IMF funding, and that they need the abortion restrictions to pass the IMF bill.
  • Will the Clinton administration request additional emergency funding because of the recent disasters in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee? The Senate bill already includes $1.6 billion more in disaster funding than is contained in the House bill.
On a separate front, House Budget Committee Republicans are continuing to work on preparing their fiscal 1999 budget resolution, which the panel is expected to mark up in early May.
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