White House to GOP: Increase user fees

Previewing upcoming fights on appropriations bills, the Clinton administration Tuesday criticized House GOP leaders for refusing to pass user fees that would help boost discretionary spending, while a key Republican appropriator said the House Interior funding bill will provide no money for the National Endowment for the Arts. Acting OMB Director Jacob Lew told House appropriators that user fees would help fund high priority programs.

"The only way to achieve the appropriate investment level is to offset discretionary spending by using savings in other areas," Lew said in a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., concerning the fiscal 1999 Agriculture appropriations measure. Lew said the president's budget conforms to the balanced budget agreement, while providing investments through user fees and mandatory programs. Lew cited the recently completed surface transportation bill as an example of legislation where spending was increased through mandatory offsets.

"We want to work with the Congress on mutually agreeable mandatory and other offsets that could be used to increase high- priority discretionary programs, including those funded by this bill," Lew wrote.

But Livingston was not impressed with Lew's argument. He said many of the user fees included in the president's budget would not pass the Congress and many are not within the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee Tuesday adopted revised 302B subcommittee allocations that would allow appropriations bills to come to the floor.

Livingston said he expects the House later this week to adopt a resolution that would allow those allocations to be used to bring the bills to the floor.

Normally, the allocations are made after a conference report on the budget resolution is adopted. "The conference on the budget resolution is nowhere in sight," Livingston said.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., called the process "awkward," saying there are great differences between the allocations that would be allowed under the budget resolution and those approved by the Appropriations Committee.

"There is no longer any budget process," Obey said. "We have 'adhocism' run amok."

The committee approved the allocations, which would make several changes to the preliminary allocations Livingston distributed in May.

The Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee gained $120 million in budget authority for non-defense programs and $160 million in outlays above the original allocations, while the Energy and Water panel gained $103 million in budget authority and $73 million in outlays.

The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee gained $20 million in budget authority and outlays and the Labor-HHS panel lost $500 million in budget authority, but gained $76 million in outlays. The Transportation subcommittee gained some $295 million in budget authority and $323 million in outlays.

Meanwhile, House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, said the Interior funding measure his panel will mark up today will not provide funds for the NEA, which he said is not authorized.

Regula said, however, that he will advocate allowing an amendment to be offered on the floor to allow funding for the program. "Then you get a clean vote," he said. "People are either for it or against it."

Arts advocates said they are not surprised by Regula's decision. "That happened to us last year," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Congressional Members Organization for the Arts.

"That seems to be the ritual. We're ready for it. Once again, they won't have the votes to kill it," she said.

A Republican NEA supporter agreed. "The politics don't work well for Republicans to zero it out," said Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., adding that in recent years, Republicans pushed some reforms for the arts agency. "It is a much tighter system now," Greenwood said.

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