Supplemental Battle Lies Ahead
Supplemental Battle Lies Ahead
As the House narrowly passed its fiscal 1998 defense and disaster relief supplemental spending bill Tuesday, House and Senate Republicans were predicting a huge battle over resolving the differences between their two versions of the bill.
"It's going to be a very difficult bill to conference," Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told reporters, a notion echoed by House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La. "Nobody can dismiss the fact that this is a difficult bill and nobody knows how it's going to come out," Livingston said.
The conference will not begin until Congress returns from its two-week Easter recess, which begins later this week.
The House passed the $2.9 billion supplemental spending bill by a vote of 212-208. Democrats fought the measure because it contained domestic discretionary offsets to pay for the defense and disaster relief spending.
Livingston said the vote was so close because "there were a lot of individual problems." He said moderates were upset with the offsetting cuts, while conservatives continue to be upset with the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
The Clinton administration has threatened to veto the bill because Republicans are using funds from federal housing programs, the administration's national service initiative, airport grants and bilingual education to pay for the programs.
In addition, administration officials said they are upset that the bill does not include funding for the International Monetary Fund or dues owed to the United Nations.
Stevens said that despite the House position, "Over here, we cannot offset defense with non-defense." Senate Majority Whip Nickles said while he agrees with the House position on offsets, "We do have a significant difference with the House."
House Democrats argued that people who rely on federal housing programs and the national service initiative will be hurt by the offsetting cuts.
And House National Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member John Murtha, D-Pa., said the Pentagon is uncertain about the future of the bill because of the sharp differences between the House and Senate.
"We're talking about a stalemate," he said. "They're not sure they're going to get the bill."
Because of that, the Pentagon is developing plans that include laying off civilian employees, delaying promotions and delaying moving families, Murtha said.
However, Livingston said he has received no indications that the Pentagon needs the money now. He said President Clinton did not request enough money for defense and because of that must ask for the supplemental funding for the Pentagon.
Asked about the possibility of adopting the Senate position, Livingston said, "I'm not talking about dropping offsets." Asked how he intends to try to resolve the stalemate, Livingston said, "When we get to conference, we'll show you."
Meanwhile, 27 House Republicans Tuesday sent Clinton a letter asking him to support offsets for the new spending.
Following the vote, Livingston agreed that it will be a difficult conference with the Senate. He said the Senate added $1.6 billion in additional disaster relief that had been requested by the president, adding that he expects conferees to "address" that issue.
He also said the Senate added additional spending, referring to the Senate's "voracious" appetite.
Stevens said he will take a strong position that the supplemental spending bill should include the U.N. and IMF funding. The Senate bill includes that funding; the Senate passed the IMF and U.N. funding separately.
Stevens said he is particularly worried about getting the IMF funding soon. Referring to the economic crisis in Asia, Stevens said, "The Asian flu is the El Nino of economics." Stevens noted that half of the exports from the West Coast and his home state of Alaska go to Asia.
Livingston agreed that Congress must consider the U.N. and IMF funding soon after returning from the Easter recess, but said many House members oppose that legislation.
"We have to move the IMF bill as soon as we come back and that's not nearly as popular as disaster relief," he said.
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