House Action on Agency Appropriations Bills: IRS, Energy, Interior, and Transportation

The House is expected to complete action today on the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill, the tenth of the 13 FY97 appropriations bills to be considered in that chamber.

Among other provisions, the legislation reduces IRS funding by $774 million overall, including a reduction of $270 million from FY96 for the Tax Systems Modernization program, a massive computer system overhaul, as well as a rescission of $174 million from prior years. The bill calls for having the Defense Department find a suitable private-sector contractor to run the IRS computer system.

The administration in a statement issued last week said it finds the Treasury-Postal bill "unacceptable," and particularly noted its opposition to the IRS funding level.

The following is an overview of action Tuesday on other FY97 appropriations bills:

ENERGY AND WATER: Senate Appropriations Committee members decried House spending decisions Tuesday afternoon as they approved an FY97 Energy and Water appropriations bill $1.3 billion larger than the version approved by their House counterparts earlier that day, LEGI-SLATE News Service reported. Senate Budget Chairman Domenici, who also chairs the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, predicted the House-Senate conference on the bill would "have a very difficult time" unless GOP leaders adjust the measure's overall spending cap.

As things stand, House conferees would have no power to compromise with the Senate on the Energy and Water measure because their bill already would spend the full amount allowed to it.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the sixth and seventh of its FY97 appropriations bills, including the Energy and Water measure. The two-bill block passed on a 27-0 vote, subject to later amendments.

The Senate's Energy and Water measure would provide $20.7 billion in FY97 budget authority to the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and other nuclear and water-resource agencies.

Senators adopted a number of amendments affecting individual harbor-dredging and flood-control projects, but made no major changes to the measure approved at the subcommittee level last week.

The largest share of the bill, $11.6 billion, would go to the Energy Department's nuclear weapons and environmental cleanup programs; FY96 spending was about $10.7 billion.

The House version of the measure includes only $10.9 billion for the same programs. DOE programs received none of the nearly $12 billion the House added to President Clinton's FY97 Defense budget, Domenici complained.

Domenici, whose home state of New Mexico is host to two DOE laboratories, argued forcefully for generous funding of the agency's weapons-related work.

On non-defense programs, also, the Senate measure would allow more spending than the House. Senate appropriators voted to freeze the bill's non-defense spending at the current $8.7 billion level, while their House counterparts cut it to $8.5 billion. Clinton had asked for a $441 million increase.

INTERIOR: The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday dropped a controversial provision dealing with Native Americans and hinted more provisions may yet fall by the wayside as the FY97 Interior appropriations bill moves through the Senate, LEGI-SLATE News Service reported.

The panel approved the bill on a 27-0 vote subject to further amendments, en bloc with the draft FY97 Energy and Water appropriations measure.

Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said he planned to pass a bill that would not invite a presidential veto. Clinton vetoed last year's Interior spending bill.

But it soon became apparent that he was not going to achieve consensus, even within the committee, on a provision which would have waived tribal sovereign immunity and allowed non-Indians who live on privately owned land within a reservation to sue tribes over property disputes.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Hatfield objected to the provision, and said his vote on the Senate floor could hinge on the resolution of this matter. Furthermore, Senate Indian Affairs ranking member Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, argued this provision would make such significant changes in the tribal-federal relationship that it should be the subject of hearings and separate legislation.

Gorton reluctantly acceded to Inouye's suggestion, but only after accepting his offer of full hearings before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on the subject. The committee then dropped the provision by unanimous consent.

But other provisions that are generating controversy and possible veto threats made it through committee.

One provision included the funding level for energy conservation and weatherization programs, which the administration says makes the bill "veto-bait," Gorton said. This could be a big problem, he continued, because the administration wants significant increases but did not specify where the funds to pay for the programs should come from.

Another controversy involves a provision included by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, which would require the GAO to certify that the Forest Service followed the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act in preparing the Tongass land management plan. The plan could not be implemented until the GAO issues its certification.

This provision joins an ongoing fight over the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Last year, Stevens offered an amendment to set aside land in the Tongass for future logging, which angered environmentalists.

The administration is vehemently opposed to the new Tongass provision, according to Gorton, but since Stevens was not at the committee meeting, resolution of that conflict will have to wait until later.

TRANSPORTATION: Amtrak would be treated more generously by the Senate than by the House under the FY97 Transportation appropriations bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, LEGI-SLATE News Service reported.

The transportation bill is generally one of the least controversial appropriations measures each year, and this one seems to be no exception, since it moving quickly and easily through Congress. The Senate subcommittee approved the bill by voice vote and with no amendments, while the full House approved its version of the measure June 27 on a 403-2 vote.

But Amtrak could become a point of contention when the two chambers meet to reconcile their differences in conference committee.

The Senate's bill would fully fund the Clinton administration's request of $200 million for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Improvement Program, which would upgrade the facilities along this heavily-used route. The House, by contrast, had earmarked no money for it.

Moreover, the Senate's legislation would provide almost $130 million more for Amtrak's capital program, which is more than double the money provided by the House.

Overall, the Senate and the House bills provide the same budgetary outlays of $35.453 billion.

But the Senate's version would approve $11.95 billion in discretionary budgetary authority, which provides for long-term contracts for transportation projects, while the House-passed bill would approve $11.85 billion. The Senate spent all of the money the Budget Committee had allocated to it for this year, while the House fell $340 million short of the limits set by the budget panel.

Like the House version, the Senate bill gives high priority to aviation safety programs.

The FAA would receive a total of $8.2 billion, and in light of the fatal ValuJet crash in May, the bill would provide for 250 additional air traffic controllers and more than 250 new regulation and certification staff.

But the Senate went a step beyond the House and the president's budget request by funding 140 aviation hazardous materials inspectors, and 20 new inspectors for the Research and Special Programs Administration, the lead agency within the Transportation Department regarding hazardous materials.

A faulty oxygen generator canister, which is classified as a hazardous material, is the suspected culprit in the ValuJet crash.

The Senate subcommittee also approved an airport improvement grant funding level of $1.4 billion, which is $100 million higher than in the House bill, and $50 million above the administration's request. Unlike the House, the Senate bill does not assume the passenger ticket tax, which funds the airport trust fund and expired last year, will be renewed.

For transit, the Senate provided $100 million more than the House in Section 9 formula grants program, which are used for capital purposes. It also provided $235 million more than the House in the Section 3 discretionary grants programs, which are used for rail modernization projects, transit new starts and bus projects.

Highways would see their federal-aid highway obligation ceiling raised to $17.65 billion, $100 million above the House level.

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