Budget negotiators cut spending, delay paychecks

President Clinton indicated Wednesday he would accept a 0.38 percent across-the-board spending cut to help offset fiscal 2000 spending, and budget bargainers also agreed to delay some federal employees' paychecks by a day next September to shift payroll costs into fiscal 2001.

Under a tentative agreement between the White House and congressional leaders, the scheduled Saturday Sept. 30, 2000 pay day for the military and some civilian federal workers would move to Sunday, Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 2001. That move would save the government $1.9 billion in fiscal 2000 payroll costs.

The 0.38 percent across-the-board cut would save only about $1.3 billion in fiscal 2000.

House and Senate Republicans decided Wednesday night to finish off the budget process by putting an omnibus five-bill spending package on the House floor today, and push ahead without final approval from the White House or congressional Democrats. Republicans have decided the compromises worked out with the administration will satisfy all sides, and will garner sufficient Republican and Democratic votes to pass both chambers.

Emerging from a meeting of top House and Senate Republicans and appropriators, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said, "I'm going to file a bill that I think meets almost everything that the President wanted." Young said he expected President Clinton to sign the bill. "This is a compromise. We've worked very hard to get where we are. ... This bill reflects what we have negotiated." Young said he would file the bill Wednesday evening, and that the Rules Committee would grant a rule for its consideration Thursday.

The FY2000 spending package includes $33.36 billion, plus $4.48 billion in emergency census money, for Commerce-Justice-State; $15.3 billion for Foreign Operations; $14.9 billion for Interior; $86.1 billion for Labor-HHS; and $576 million in emergency disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Floyd. It also will include legislation to restore some cuts in reimbursement to Medicare providers authorized in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act; the State Department authorization and reorganization bill; a home television satellite bill, without controversial loan guarantee provisions; and language to extend the Northeast dairy compact and institute the "Option One A" milk pricing system.

In addition to the across-the-board cut and the shift in the military pay day, the package will include authorization to transfer $3.5 billion into general revenues from a $5.7 billion special Federal Reserve fund and $750 million in rescissions from the Section 8 housing voucher program. The various offsets to outlays total $7.4 billion.

GOP leaders agreed to give the President language to grant federal agencies flexibility in making the across-the-board cut, which Young said Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew would get to approve before the measure is filed.

In addition, Bloomberg News Service reported U.S. defense contractors will be paid at least five days late in September 2000 so that Congress can push about $1.2 billion in federal expenditures into the next fiscal year and avoid tapping the Social Security surplus.

Also today, the House plans to vote on a combined tax extenders and "Ticket to Work" disability conference report and pass a continuing resolution to last through Nov. 24.

After that, the House plans to go into pro forma session, according to a GOP leadership aide. GOP leaders plan to pass an adjournment resolution after the Senate completes action, although members could be called back if problems occur.

The Senate should take up the spending package once it passes the House, with the hope of adjourning late this week or this weekend.

Because of various filibuster threats, GOP leaders are likely to file cloture once they get the package, and could vote on cloture after two legislative days have passed. A Senate GOP aide said the Republicans expect Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., to demand a reading of the bill, as allowed by Senate rules.

Young said the reading could take eight or nine hours, raising the prospect of a Senate session that could run beyond Saturday. Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Wednesday that if the Senate is unable to complete its business by Saturday, it will come back in session the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

After several meetings, near-meetings and misunderstandings Wednesday, GOP leaders decided the FY2000 omnibus would not include a controversial mining provision pushed by Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who was leaving the Capitol along with other White House officials after the two sides failed to meet Wednesday afternoon, said Clinton would veto the appropriations bill if it included a proposal by Byrd to allow West Virginia strip miners to dump in the state's streams.

Podesta indicated any change Byrd's proposal made to current law would be unacceptable if it weakened environmental protections.

Among the most serious pitfalls the spending package faces is the Northeast dairy language, which is bitterly opposed by members from the Upper Midwest and has prompted a filibuster threat from Kohl and Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn. That provision also is likely to draw fire in the House from Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis.

White House officials said they had sought to steer Republicans away from including the dairy compact provisions in the appropriations bill, arguing that doing so would create a legislative mess.

But White House aides declined to say the President would veto the bill because of the dairy provisions, which Clinton opposes. "We'll have to look at the overall bill," Podesta told CongressDaily when asked whether the dairy provisions were veto bait.

Republicans are gambling that many Democrats will find it hard to vote against the package, which contains many of Clinton's priorities. "They're going to vote for it," said a GOP leadership aide, noting programs to hire new teachers and police officers. "The President will sign it," another GOP leadership aide predicted.

But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said Wednesday evening that Republicans are taking a risk by moving without a final agreement with Democrats. "If they do this, I think the President has real problems," Gephardt said. "It breaks the agreement."

Congressional Democrats and White House officials held an afternoon news conference to say the budget negotiations were nearly complete, but that Republicans had not met with them to finalize the offsets.

"We have come so far on teachers, police, United Nations, environmental riders and a whole array of issues," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "My colleagues from the White House have been waiting all day to meet with someone and there is no one to meet with."

OMB Director Lew said negotiations were "down to the last details" but added, "We've had no substantive meetings today."

But Republican aides complained that it was actually Byrd who dismissed White House negotiators from a scheduled meeting with congressional negotiators Wednesday morning, and said that Byrd's lengthy protestations on the mining issue kept negotiators from meeting.

The aides said the news conference only increased Republicans' determination to move forward.

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