Congress, White House try to finalize budget deal

Congress, White House try to finalize budget deal

The House this afternoon moved to pass yet a fourth continuing resolution, as negotiators haggled over the last several issues blocking Congress from passing an omnibus spending package that President Clinton can sign.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told reporters today: "We're making progress, but it is very difficult. There are still some significant disagreements. We have a number of details to work out." Gingrich added: "If we're lucky, it will all be done by this evening. If we're unlucky, you all will get to sit another day in this hallway."

When asked what the House Republican Conference would think of the developing omnibus bill, Gingrich said, "I think most Republicans are going to regard this [bill] as stronger defense, stronger anti-drug, and stronger local-control. ... I think most Republicans are going to vote for this bill, but I don't want to forecast it until it's done."

Gingrich said no decisions have been made yet on tax portions of the developing bill. Gingrich and White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles were scheduled to meet again this afternoon.

Serious divisions remain over the census sampling issue. White House officials and some Republicans appear ready to accept a deal that would fund the entire Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill for six months. However, some House Democrats and GOP appropriators question that deal.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said various environmental riders, the United Nations dues payment issue and the amount of agriculture supplemental spending still have not been settled.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said today Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has made a counteroffer to Daschle on the farm disaster package. The spokesman said Lott and Daschle are trying to find a way to get money to farmers based on their 1998 production that is acceptable to both parties.

In addition, the two sides must decide whether additional offsets must be found for new spending the President has proposed. While the administration said it proposed more than $4 billion in offsets, the CBO scored those savings at about $2.9 billion. Negotiators must decide whether to insist on additional offsets or simply select additional programs to be forward- funded.

A Democratic aide said the two sides also are working on a compromise on contraceptive benefits for federal workers. He said the compromise would center on providing physicians-not entire health plans-with a moral and religious exemption from having to provide certain contraceptives.

Gingrich said Republicans still plan to send to the President the State Department reauthorization bill prohibiting funding for international groups that provide information about abortion services. The administration has threatened to veto it.

"We'll send that down at the end of the session," Gingrich said. "It has all the money needed for the United Nations. But if [Clinton] decides he has to have $3 million in tax-paid lobbying for abortion overseas, then he can veto the bill."