House to try to go home Friday

House to try to go home Friday

Even though budget negotiators have reached an impasse on the fiscal 2000 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, House leaders said Wednesday that they hope to resolve all outstanding issues in a final push of talks that could result in a Friday adjournment.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told his colleagues on the floor Wednesday that he believes the talks could soon be successfully completed, and that staff would be able to draft legislative language during a Thursday pro forma session-allowing for votes Friday.

Meanwhile, congressional and White House negotiators were set to resume talks early Wednesday afternoon, where they must work through a policy fight over a class size reduction initiative, funding offsets, and other contentious issues in order to reach agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., was set to discuss various exit options during a meeting of the Senate GOP Conference this afternoon, where a decision on scheduling is expected. When asked if a Friday adjournment was possible, Lott said it was "looking pretty dim right now."

A GOP leadership aide said the top goal of GOP senators was to "finish up and go home ... How is immaterial." Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said, "I'm not talking about next week, we're trying to get this done."

Negotiators will have to work hard to complete the talks by tonight, and the approach faces resistance from members on both sides, who are anxious to return to their districts for the Veterans Day holiday.

Armey, who has often been a voice of optimism in the budget talks, told his colleagues: "There is that magic moment when everyone says we can agree. That moment is at hand ... It can happen, and we need to be here to be prepared for it."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., agreed, saying, "We're about at that point where things are going to fall into place."

But Young also conceded to reporters that, rather than making progress this morning, negotiators were going in circles. After indicating late Tuesday that they would send members home for the weekend and bring them back early next week, House GOP leaders said Wednesday they were prepared to stay in session into the early hours of the morning to try to complete as much business as possible.

But House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., was far more skeptical than Armey, and urged a break to allow members to return home while key negotiators complete a deal. "There is no prayer of wrapping this up today," he declared Wednesday.

Armey said once a deal is reached, leaders were planning to move two packages of appropriations bills, as well as a final package that would include tax "extenders" and other legislation. An Armey spokeswoman said the District of Columbia and the Foreign Operations appropriations bills are likely to be the two appropriations vehicles, although Democratic holds in the Senate have stalled the foreign aid bill.

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